A child reporting the ongoing sexual assault of their parent was one of hundreds of thousands of 999 calls incorrectly “cancelled”.
An independent report has found a number of the 200,000 cancelled calls could have resulted in "serious harm" to victims, or in offenders not being brought to justice.
Furthermore, while Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said yesterday that An Garda Síochána had taken a number of steps to ensure such incidents do not occur in future, it could not be fully guaranteed they would not happen again.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, meanwhile, said it was "a serious issue" and that the public “must have complete confidence” in the 999 call system.
In one case, the call-taker did not ask a person for their contact details and ended the call, even though the caller said they were witnessing what they believed to be a “serious sexual crime”.
The person was not kept on the line and could not be re-contacted without their details, so gardaí were unable to locate the scene of the potential crime or victim. The report said that “it is feasible that a serious crime was committed, and the victim of a serious sexual crime never came forward to make a report”.
The Policing Authority yesterday published its final report into An Garda Síochána’s review into the closure, and cancellation, of 999 calls. It first became aware of the issue in December 2020 and commissioned the report in July 2021.
A ‘cancelled’ 999 call is one where an emergency call is taken by a dispatcher but is cancelled from the gardaí’s CAD system, meaning that no Pulse record is created and no follow-up takes place, a particularly stark omission in instances of domestic violence or sexual assault.
An interim report into the controversy, compiled by Derek Penman, had found that “serious risk or harm” to individuals may have resulted from the cancelled calls.
In this final report, Mr Penman, a former chief inspector from Scotland, had the chance to listen to some of these calls in order to assess the quality of call-taking and the response given to people who had called 999.
It highlighted how there were inconsistencies and poor service in some areas, with “substantial shortcomings” identified in a number of cases.
In some, it was not possible to tell whether the call being cancelled in a particular manner resulted in serious harm, as not enough information was gathered in that call.
The incidents involved cases of domestic abuse and a case where a child had rung a third-party line and disclosed both they and their parent were the victims of sexual abuse.
Mr Penman has recommended that gardaí now conclude the CAD review and concentrate resources on improving call handling, alongside working with the Policing Authority to agree an approach on “call handling assurance”.
Addressing a meeting of the Policing Authority yesterday on these matters, Mr Harris said An Garda Síochána welcomes the report and its recommendations.
“It obviously informs our own assessment that there were missed opportunities to engage with callers,” he said.
Mr Harris said that measures taken to try to prevent this happening in future included further training for staff and an increased role for supervisors, along with a new CAD system due to be rolled out.
He also said that gardaí were in the “final phase” of a review into disciplinary action arising from the cancelled 999 calls. “It’s important that’s followed on,” he said.
Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Policing Authority chairperson Bob Collins said that he was reassured by some aspects of what he heard from gardaí at the meeting, but much further work was needed.
“This is a problem that is going to need sustained, intrusive engagement by the Garda Síochána over a prolonged period of time to make sure that all of the issues that have been identified are satisfactorily resolved,” he said.