Allegations that Garda officers joked about raping two female protesters arrested at a controversial Shell gas project have been backed up by a video recording examined by the force's watchdog.
But the Garda Ombudsman said there was no evidence of any criminal offence during the incident at Erris, Co Mayo, in March this year and neither of the women involved heard the conversation which took place in a patrol car.
The watchdog also revealed it is investigating the deletion of recordings on the pocket video camera, which inadvertently taped the gardai chatting among themselves, shortly before it was handed over to the 'rape-tape' inquiry.
In the Garda Ombudsman interim report handed over to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, it says that at no stage during the incident were the two women threatened personally with being raped, deported or any other form of threat. One of the women was believed to have been a US citizen and it was alleged one of five officers recorded on the video camera also joked about deporting her.
The female protesters, who were demonstrating against a pipeline being built by the oil giant Shell, discovered the alleged conversation after they were handed back the camera which was seized and left in the back of the Garda vehicle. The inquiry has found that disciplinary issues may arise in the case of two of the officers involved, while there is no evidence of any breach of the force's code by the other three. The ombudsman said it was giving consideration to possible recommended disciplinary action.
During the investigation, a detective who was at the scene at the time gave evidence that the alleged remarks were made in the context of one of the protesters having shouted that the other was not safe and could be raped. But the ombudsman said it was not possible to corroborate the claim. Sound on video footage of the arrests was distorted by high winds.
The original tape was sent to the Forensic Science Service for Northern Ireland in an attempt to retrieve all footage, including any that was deleted. It was found six files were deleted, just before the camera was handed over, and could not be recovered.
The interim report also criticised what it branded the unsatisfactory level of co-operation by a number of people, including some associated through academic links with the two women. The ombudsman said it was giving further consideration in relation to the "obstruction" of its own investigators. Only one of the arrested women co-operated with the inquiry, with the second said to be now working overseas and will not be returning to Ireland for around a year.
Shell To Sea stated that GSOC had received all recordings made on the day in question, but confirmed that university research data recorded some weeks earlier had been deleted in line with policy. It also maintained that neither of the two women ever mentioned the word rape at any time during the protest or arrest, adding that any suggestion by a garda is untrue.
Elsewhere, it denied claims the second woman had failed to co-operate with the GSOC, stating that she co-operated through her family and put a significant amount of time and energy into making a detailed complaint. The deadline for submission of this complaint is September 2011, they added. Dublin Shell To Sea spokesperson Caoimhe Kerins said: "It is deeply disappointing to hear Mr Shatter trying to side-step the real issue of the fact that gardai were caught talking of raping prisoners in their custody, and instead trying to cloud the issues with talk of tampering with tapes."