Three-year backlog for gardaí to examine child abuse images on seized devices

As well placing cases in jeopardy, the delay also "creates a risk that other children will experience preventable abuse", said the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection.
Three-year backlog for gardaí to examine child abuse images on seized devices

Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary of the GNCCB said they were dealing with more cases and more devices.

There is a three-year Garda backlog to examine digital devices seized in child abuse imagery investigations and other serious crimes.

The Policing Authority said gardaí set targets in 2019 to cut waiting times to under 12 months.

The backlog has been flagged for many years by the Judiciary, the Garda Inspectorate, and others.

It was thought the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) — which forensically examines the devices — had made inroads into clearing the backlog, but it appears to have increased again.

In its latest report, the Policing Authority said plans by Garda HQ to tackle increasing cyber crime, and economic crime, had been “persistently unachieved” due to insufficient resources.

Most notably, against a target of reducing the time it takes to ensure a device is analysed by gardaí once seized to below 12 months, the current backlog for device analysis is in the region of three years,” the report said.

Professor Conor O’Mahony, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, said he highlighted this issue in his 2021 Annual Report, published last January.

“The data I had at that time referred to a two-year backlog," he said. "On the data [in this report], the problem appears to be getting bigger rather than smaller.” 

Prof O’Mahony, attached to UCC's School of Law, said the backlog delayed the time a case gets to court, may even place a case in jeopardy, and, if there was a child victim, further impact them and their families.

Leaving perpetrators at large

“In addition, the delays pose risk to other parties not involved in the cases by leaving perpetrators at large for extended periods in circumstances where they have come to the attention of the authorities, but the resources are not available to progress the investigations against them," he said. 

"This creates a risk that other children will experience preventable abuse.” 

Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary of the GNCCB told the Irish Examiner last October the backlog had increased, but said they were dealing with more cases and more devices.

“In the past, there might be one laptop and one desktop per case — now there’s USB cards, SD cards, SIM cards, multiple phones, laptops, hard drives," he said.

We could have 40 devices in one case, so that’s a challenge; it’s more resource-intensive.”

He also said device storage had “massively increased”, and that they have often encountered “layers of encryption”.

But he said cases were assessed and they would not abandon a vulnerable victim or take a chance a suspected offender might abscond.

He said following an internal competition in 2020 for the bureau, 59 applicants were successful. Some 25 of them joined in April 2021, going to the national bureau and the four new satellite hubs in Cork, Galway, Mullingar, and Wexford.

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