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Shell to Sea release detailed report revealing Garda Ombudsman spin & misinformation

category ireland / britain | community struggles | opinion / analysis author Wednesday April 25, 2012 15:10author by Workers Solidarity Movement - WSM Report this post to the editors

Garda Ombudsman: spin and misinformation

Shell to Sea have released a very detailed report into the GSOC 'investigation' of the Garda at the center of the 'Corrib Cops Rape Tape' which first came to public attention one year ago today. The report reveals that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) engaged in spin and misinformation that misled the public over the Corrib ‘rape’ recording incident of March 2011 and undermined the case against Gardaí. The report details GSOC’s attempts to serve the interests of An Garda Síochána by undermining the women who made the recording public, while deflecting attention from the behaviour of Gardaí. The document was prepared by Shell to Sea with one of the women about whom the ‘rape’ comments were made and seven academics at NUI Maynooth. It has been made available online as a PDF and we are republishing it here:

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Garda Ombudsman: spin and misinformation


How the Garda Ombudsman blatantly misled the public over the March 2011 Corrib Garda rape comments recording and undermined the women who brought the recording to public attention - April 5th, 2012


This document examines the handling by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) of its investigation into the incident in Co Mayo on March 31st 2011, when a Garda sergeant and several Gardaí inadvertently recorded themselves discussing threatening to rape a woman who was in their custody. The manner in which GSOC conducted its investigation, particularly its July 2011 ‘Interim Report’, is deeply troubling in several respects. The evidence suggests that GSOC attempted to serve the interests of Gardaí by undermining the women who made the recording public, while deflecting attention from the behaviour of Gardaí.

GSOC’S INTERIM REPORT: TWO KEY FALSEHOODS FED INTO PUBLIC DOMAIN

GSOC’s Interim Report (July 2011) into the incident undermined the case against the Gardaí primarily through two key pieces of false information:

i) The report implies that the recording of the Garda conversation on March 31st had been “tampered with” before being handed to GSOC. In fact, this recording was fully intact on the camera and had not been altered in any way. GSOC was clearly fully aware of this fact. However, GSOC exploited a confusion created by the deletion of an older, unrelated file from the camera – a recording of a confidential academic research interview.

ii) The report implies that one of the women arrested on March 31st may have said the word “rape” during the arrest. The two women utterly refute the suggestion that they said the word “rape” at any time. However, the report fails to make any reference to their accounts of the arrests, despite the fact that GSOC officers had full statements from both and interviewed one of them for 4.5 hours. Instead, the report quotes an unnamed Garda who gives a vague account of possibly having heard one of the women mention rape.

GOING AFTER THE PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT THE RECORDING TO PUBLIC ATTENTION

One year on from the start of GSOC’s investigation, there is no word of any disciplinary action against the Gardaí involved. The only people threatened with criminal prosecution in relation to the Corrib Garda “rape” comments incident were the people who brought the recording to public attention. Within days of the release of the recording, GSOC threatened several people with criminal proceedings: Jerrie Ann Sullivan, one of the women whose arrest led to the recording being made; Caoimhe Kerins, a Dublin Shell to Sea spokesperson; several of Ms Sullivan’s academic supervisors from NUI Maynooth and Ms Sullivan’s solicitor. GSOC also briefed journalists in a way that undermined these people. One example was an article in the News of the World on April 17th 2011, which quoted GSOC sources as saying that Ms Sullivan was not co-operating with its investigation. This document contains accounts by some of these people of their dealings with GSOC.

HIGHLY SELECTIVE REPORT BY GSOC

GSOC officers interviewed Ms Sullivan for 4.5 hours. They also interviewed several of her academic supervisors from NUI Maynooth. GSOC exchanged extensive correspondence with Ms Sullivan and her supervisors. Despite this, no reference is made in the Interim Report to anything they said. The only quote from the investigation that is included in the Interim Report is one from an unnamed Garda detective, who makes a vague report of having heard someone shout “rape”, though s/he was “unsure of the exact words used”... as s/he says his/her back was turned. Ms Sullivan told GSOC categorically that neither she nor the other woman used the word “rape” during the arrest (no other protestors were present at the scene of the arrest). However, there is no reference to this in the Interim Report.

A GSOC press release stated on July 28th, 2011: “The Commission is satisfied that the interim report has provided as complete a picture as possible of what happened.”

BLAMING THE VICTIM RATHER THAN THE PERPETRATORS

It is unclear why GSOC has given such prominence in its report to the allegation that one of the women used the word “rape” during the arrest. This appears to be an attempt to shift the blame away from the Garda Sergeant and Gardaí and onto the people whom they discussed raping and who brought the recordings to public attention. This cry of “the women used the word rape first” represents an apparent attempt to mitigate or justify the behaviour of the Gardaí. It is also a disturbing echo of the old notion that a woman is somehow to blame if she is the victim of sexual abuse.

GSOC EXPLOITED A CONFUSION ABOUT AN OLDER FILE DELETED FROM CAMERA

The digital video camera on which Gardaí recorded themselves talking about rape belongs to NUI Maynooth. The camera also contained an older video file, recorded on March 12th, 2011, several weeks prior to the rape comments incident. It was a recording of an academic research interview and was subject to academic confidentiality. In order to protect the confidentiality of the interview subjects (Erris residents talking about their experience of the Corrib Gas project, including policing), the single specific research file was deleted in the presence of a number of NUIM academics, before the university authorities handed the camera over to GSOC. GSOC’s Interim Report exploited this dilemma in a blatant manner.
  • Ms Sullivan and her academic supervisors explained to GSOC officers on several occasions in April 2011 that they were under a strict obligation to protect the confidentiality of people she had interviewed for academic research purposes and that, consequently, she could not hand over an earlier recording of an academic interview.

  • Bizarrely, GSOC chose to ignore this information in its interim report. Instead, GSOC simply stated that footage had been “deleted and overwritten”. This resulted in some highly misleading media reports, which claimed that part of the crucial recordings from March 31st had been recorded over.

  • Between April 8th and 13th 2011, Ms Sullivan and her academic supervisors made several attempts to reach a compromise solution with GSOC. They suggested to GSOC that an independent third party could delete the research interview file in the presence of Ms Sullivan and any technical experts required. GSOC rejected these offers and continued to issue threats of criminal prosecution. GSOC’s Interim Report makes no reference to these offers. Instead, it states: “the significance of these deleted files to the GSOC investigation was not known.”

  • The effect of all this was that journalists and the public believed that crucial evidence had been interfered with in some way.

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OR NOT?

When GSOC launched its “public interest” inquiry on April 5th into the incident, GSOC briefed journalists that this was not a criminal investigation and that the Gardaí under investigation were unlikely to face criminal charges. However, within days of this, GSOC officers began threatening civilians with criminal prosecution for allegedly not co-operating with their “criminal investigation”.

HOW THE INTERIM REPORT WAS RELEASED

The interim report was never published on GSOC’s website and has not been sent to any of the civilians affected by it, which is their legal right. However, it was passed to journalists and was published on the RTE news website. It was released at a quiet time for news, on July 28th, resulting in extensive news coverage of the allegations contained in it. The fact that it was released without any warning to the two women involved, putting them back in the media spotlight, is typical of the insensitivity that characterised the investigation.

ONE YEAR ON

GSOC has yet to issue a final report about ‘rape’ comments recording in March 2011. To date, no Gardaí have been disciplined in connection with the incident.

GSOC AND THE POLICING OF CORRIB GAS PROTESTS

When the rape comments recording story broke in early April 2011, GSOC moved swiftly to set up an inquiry. It clearly sought to be seen to be investigating this matter urgently, threatening civilians with criminal charges if they did not co-operate quickly and briefing journalists that these people were not co-operating. In contrast to this, numerous people living close to Shell’s inland refinery in north Mayo are still waiting (years, in some cases) to hear any response from GSOC over complaints submitted about abuse by Gardaí policing the protests there.

GSOC began hearing complaints in May 2007. Between that date and November 2009, 111 complaints were lodged with it in relation to policing of protests against the Corrib Gas project. Of the 111, 78 were deemed admissible, but only seven files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The DPP refused to prosecute any of these. Most strikingly, only one file has been sent by GSOC to the Garda Commissioner’s office calling for disciplinary action. To date, no action has been taken. Despite this damning failure, dozens more complaints have been lodged since November 2009, as the GSOC complaints procedure remains the only route open to people who have experienced Garda violence and misconduct. Many Erris residents have stopped making complaints to GSOC, as they now regard it as a waste of time.

In 2007, GSOC sought to do a “policies and practices” investigation into public order aspects of the Corrib protests. Permission was denied by then Justice Minister, Brian Lenihan. The 2010 Front Line Defenders report into Corrib policing argues that this refusal creates “the impression that the State does not want the Garda Síochana held properly to account over the policing of the Corrib dispute”. Front Line Defenders called on GSOC to reapply for permission for this investigation. GSOC has so far failed to act on any of Front Line Defenders’ recommendations.

CONCLUSION

GSOC’s investigation bears all the hallmarks of a media campaign rather than an independent inquiry. Within hours of the story breaking, GSOC announced a public interest investigation. Privately, officers threatened several civilians with criminal prosecution because these people were faced with a dilemma over an older recording that was subject to academic confidentiality.

GSOC’s briefings to journalists and in particular its July 2011 Interim Report served to transform what was a very straightforward case into a confused and complicated one. The Interim Report was highly selective, omitting all information provided by Jerrie Ann Sullivan and her academic supervisors, such as:
  • the explanations about why an older file had to be deleted from the camera;
  • their offers to GSOC to have the file deleted in the presence of an agreed third party;

The release of the Interim Report in late July 2011 resulted in extensive mainstream media coverage, much of which focused on the false implication that the recording had been “tampered with” and the baseless allegation that the women involved used the word “rape” during their arrest.

The conduct of GSOC in this case raises grave doubts about its independence as a statutory Garda watchdog body in the policing of the Corrib Gas controversy. The lessons of this saga are that any Shell to Sea campaigner who embarrasses An Garda Síochána – as well as leaving themselves open to character attack by anonymous Gardaí via crime correspondents – may also be undermined by, and threatened with prosecution by, the very body tasked with investigating Gardaí.

The document was prepared by Jerrie Ann Sullivan; by seven academics at NUI Maynooth; and by the Dublin Shell to Sea campaign.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Caoimhe Kerins (Dublin Shell to Sea) 085-8328130
Laurence Cox (NUI Maynooth) 087-9851029

APPENDICES

A. Account by Jerrie Ann Sullivan with detailed timeline
B. Letter of Complaint from Jerrie Ann Sullivan to GSOC re Interim Report
C. Statement by NUI Maynooth academics
D. Technical notes
E. Copy of GSOC’s Interim Report (July 2011)

This text is from "Garda Ombudsman: spin and misinformation. How the Garda Ombudsman blatantly misled the public over the March 2011 Corrib Garda rape comments recording and undermined the women who brought the recording to public attention". Published by Shell to Sea April 5th, 2012

The PDF, including appendices, can be downloaded from the Shell to Sea site:

Related Link: http://www.shelltosea.com/sites/default/files/images/GS...2.pdf
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