Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Garda accused over penalty points

The watchdog found evidence of wrongdoing by Garda officers

A Garda watchdog investigation into the quashing of penalty points by officers has found consistent and widespread wrongdoing within the force.

The inquiry, by the Garda Inspectorate, also attacked management after finding "no meaningful evidence" of good supervision of the system.

The inspectorate was set up to scrutinise overall practices and policing within the force and does not have the power to investigate alleged wrongdoing by individual officers.

As part of its examination of two separate inquiries into the scandal, the Inspectorate examined the cancellation of fixed-charge notices for motoring offences in nine different Garda districts.

In more than half of the cases - between August 2012 and January 2013 - there was no evidence to support why the offences were wiped out.

In only one of the nine districts was the official policy for carrying out the system followed.

Poor records and paper trails were found in most cases.

The Inspectorate report states that "a significant proportion of cases appear to have been terminated in circumstances that do not satisfy the stated policy".

Some 55 Garda inspectors and superintendents - out of 113 investigated - were found to have breached internal Garda rules in cancelling fixed-charge notices to varying degrees of seriousness, the report noted.

The Inspectorate also said it found no evidence of off-duty officers ever being refused a request to wipe penalty points.

In several cases where gardai had their penalties quashed, the Inspectorate said explanations were non-existent, were not adequate or breached force policy.

In one case, a garda had five offences wiped between 2007 and 2011, four of which were "not justified", the Inspectorate found.

Reasons given for wiping the penalties included the garda being asked to work at a summer festival, being late for a meeting and their house alarm was going off.

In other case, a garda claimed they were on duty but provided no evidence. On-duty officers are statutorily exempt from speeding offences.

In one example, no reason was given for clearing a detective sergeant of doing 141kph (88mph) in a 100kph zone.

The report said this was also a breach of policy.

Other explanations by serving officers included taking their wife to visit a sick relative in hospital, visiting an ill relative and undertaking investigations.

The Inspectorate said it found little evidence of any inquiry by Garda management to confirm a member was actually "on duty" when they claimed.

It also complained there was no guidance or interpretation on the discretionary clearing of offences.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the report confirmed the need for a broad range of initiatives and legislative changes to overhaul the system.

"I look forward to the implementation in full of the Garda Inspectorate's recommendations, which I hope will result in a well-designed, well-managed, fit-for-purpose fixed charge processing system which will be subject to regular audit," he said.

"This can only be to the benefit of, and protect the interests of, both individual members of An Garda Siochana who are required to use the system and the general public who are entitled to know that the system is fair and will stand up to scrutiny."

Robert Olson, chief inspector with the Garda Inspectorate, said the penalty points system was "clearly dysfunctional".

"We basically found a flawed system," he said.

Mr Olson added that he did not find any evidence of corruption because his inquiry was not tasked with looking for it.

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