Women's Aid blasts 'extremely troubling' issue of 999 calls not being answered

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris apologised for the cancellation of calls
Women's Aid blasts 'extremely troubling' issue of 999 calls not being answered

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris today briefed the Police Authority on an internal inquiry that found gardaí cancelled hundreds of domestic violence calls incorrectly during 2019 and 2020. File photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Women's Aid has sharply criticised the failure by gardaí to respond to calls from domestic violence victims.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the support organisation said the issue, which saw more than 2,000 emergency calls cancelled by gardaí for "invalid" reasons, is of deep concern.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris apologised to victims of domestic abuse whose calls were not responded to, but he faced stinging criticism from the Policing Authority, as well as Women's Aid.

Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women's Aid, said the matter is "extremely troubling".

"A single call in an emergency situation to gardaí can be life-changing for someone subjected to domestic violence – in a positive or negative way depending on how the call is dealt with," she said.

The gardaí are a key frontline responder to combating and preventing the scourge of domestic abuse in Ireland, to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account. Public trust in their response is absolutely vital."

Ms Benson welcomed the apology and said they have been given assurances that gardaí will work to ensure it never happens again.

Women's Aid's annual report for 2020 noted that more than one-third of domestic violence sufferers who contacted gardaí had said the response was unhelpful.

Speaking earlier, Commissioner Harris explained that 1,400 of the 2,030 cancelled calls have been referred for further investigation, following an internal review into the matter.

“On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I want to apologise to those victims,” Commissioner Harris said.

They are among the most vulnerable people in society and when some victims of domestic abuse called for our assistance they did not always receive the professional service we aim to deliver and victims are entitled to expect.” 

He said the cancellation “issue”, where calls were cancelled before there was an appropriate policing response, had resulted from technological and procedural failings, but also because of “individuals not adhering to An Garda Síochána policies and procedures”.

The cancellation of calls can happen for many reasons, with the result that the calls in question are not recorded on the Garda Pulse system. This means follow-up inquiries are not necessarily required and the calls are not recorded either in official crime statistics or on the files of the child and family agency Tusla.

The review, which covered the period from January 2019 until the end of October 2020, and focused specifically on domestic violence / sexual abuse (DVSA) calls, noted an overall cancellation rate for all 999 emergency calls of 14%, or 202,931 calls.

Within that, more than 53,000 domestic violence calls were made during that period, with 4% of these cancelled for invalid reasons.

A Garda spokesperson said that to date, of the 3,120 DVSA calls which were cancelled, more than 300 of the victims had been contacted, and admitted the 2,028 calls closed for invalid reasons could relate to a significantly greater number of people, given each incidence could relate to multiple persons being at risk.

The spokesperson added that “training” has been put in place since the beginning of the review to aid gardaí in correctly processing requests to cancel such incidents, while full files are to be created on Pulse for all the missed incidents of victims calling for help.

  • Women's Aid can be contacted on its National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900

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