Gardai explanations for cancelled 999 calls ‘perplexing in the extreme'

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The chair of the Policing Authority has said he is “perplexed in the extreme” by explanations offered by An Garda Siochana over the cancellation of thousands of 999 calls.

Gardai explanations for cancelled 999 calls ‘perplexing in the extreme’
© Damian Eagers Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaks to the media after a number of people were arrested following an anti-lockdown protest in Dublin on Saturday.

An internal Garda review, focusing on 23,000 calls made between January 1 2019 and October 31 2020, found that 2,689 calls to the emergency helpline were invalid cancellations.

Gardai said the “key problem” regarding those calls was that they were not properly recorded on their Pulse system, a step that would allow for “further investigation and follow up”.

The review identified 114 calls, 5% of the invalid cancelled calls, which were described as “crime incidents”.

Despite this, Deputy Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon gave the Policing Authority a categorical assurance that no individual had come to any physical harm as a result of cancelled calls.

She told a meeting on Thursday: “What I’m saying is that 114 calls have now been transferred onto Pulse, and based on our victim engagement, and our subsequent call backs arising from this review, we are satisfied that no harm was caused by lack of initial engagement.”

Ms McMahon said that “there were no calls cancelled, every call was answered”.

She said there was engagement with every call, but that they may have been “prematurely closed or inappropriately closed.”

“The assurance I can provide is that that at the outset, there was a service provided and there was a decision made by the dispatcher and those responding to the call” she added.

However she said the failure to upload incidents to the PULSE system created a “gap” in respect of future calls, which could “potentially pose a risk for the victim.”

However, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said it was “a very nuanced picture” when asked if anyone had been physically harmed as a result of the controversy.

“In terms of of physical harm, there was an absence of investigation around offences, a range of offences. But also issues around barring orders, etc.

“The difficult thing in this is there was a failure to act.

“There was a failure for us to follow through on our policies in terms of ongoing examination or ongoing call back to that victim and support for that victim.

“I take very seriously that 114 offenses have been were missed at the time, subsequently now recorded.”

The Chair of the Policing Authority Bob Collins slammed the explanations given by the senior Gardai, and said they had contradicted what he had previously been told on the subject.

Gardai explanations for cancelled 999 calls ‘perplexing in the extreme’
© Provided by PA Media Chairman of the Policing Authority, Bob Collins. (Paul Faith/PA)

He said: “Just going back to what Deputy Commissioner McMahon said… that no issue arose in relation to responding to calls or dispatching units. Every call was answered.

“We know every time everybody rings 999 they get an answer. The question is whether there was action following the answer.

“And Deputy Commissioner McMahon seems to be saying that in every case there was a service provided, because a unit was dispatched in every case.

“This is not what An Garda Siochana said, this is not was said to me when I was in the command and control centre in Galway for the north-western region.

“I listened to calls, you listened to calls Commissioner, more of them than I did. Other colleagues listened to calls.

“They did not represent the provision of a service that would allow one to say that there were no issues.

“That every call was answered, a service provided to everybody, except in this tiny number of of incidents – but 114 isn’t a tiny number – that there may have been issues of no follow through.

“I’m perplexed in the extreme at this stage in terms of the apparently shifting position.”

A clearly frustrated Mr Collins questioned why Gardai were now insisting every call was answered, and questioned if it was worth continuing the conversation until an independent report on the matter is completed.

Derek Penman, a former Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, has been appointed to conduct a preliminary review.

Mr Collins said: “No one has suggested at any stage in this that people ring 999 and the call isn’t answered.

“People ring 999 and a story is told or a history is taken, and then nothing happens.

“No unit is dispatched, no service is provided, and then nothing is recorded because the call is cancelled.

“Information is taken inaccurately and Gardai are dispatched to an address where they have no information about it or they’re dispatched to a wrong address.

“And we have seen and we have heard that there can’t be a proper service in those circumstances.

“I find it difficult to understand how that kind of categorical statement can be made at this stage of the game.

“And part of me wonders whether there is any point in continuing a conversation until such time as we get Mr. Penman’s review.”

The meeting also heard that up to 70 cancelled 999 calls have come to Garda attention since the controversy came to light.

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