FIVE GARDAÍ AT the centre of the Corrib gas project ‘rape tape’ controversy have been cleared of serious wrongdoing but a recommendation that disciplinary proceedings be instituted against one garda has been made.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has this afternoon published the final findings of its independent inquiry into the incident involving two arrested female Shell to Sea protesters and five gardaí.
The probe was initiated – in the public interest – last April by the GSOC after a recording was released in which several gardaí joked about threatening to rape and deport one of the two women arrested for public order offences near the controversial Corrib gas project in Mayo.
The incident occurred on 31 March last year when the five gardaí were travelling to Belmullet Garda Station in a separate vehicle to the two arrested protesters. The two women were detained following a ‘Shell to Sea’ demonstration against the pipeline at Erris.
Although clearing all five of criminal offences, the report has found against one garda in relation to the conversation at the centre of the investigation. He will most likely face disciplinary action but that decision will ultimately be made by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. A report has been prepared by the Ombudsman and sent to Callinan.
It is understood that he had an “active role” in the conversation but did not use the word ‘rape’ at any time. He has been identified as the man who made remarks about the Garda National Immigration Bureau and referred to the Rossport Solidarity Camp as “crusty”.
After interviewing all the passengers in the jeep, the GSOC concluded that two gardaí had no involvement whatsoever in the conversation. They were “simply present” when it took place, the report found.
A third was exonerated after giving a “plausible” explanation for whether or not he used the word ‘rape’ while in the vehicle. The recording was not entirely clear on this point, said the Ombudsman.
The report noted that “at no stage” were either of the females involved threatened directly with being raped or deported.
They did not hear the conversation at the time as it took place inside a garda jeep where the only persons present were the five gardaí. The two females concerned became aware of the alleged conversation after the event, following their release and on reviewing the content of the camcorder that had been returned to them by gardaí.
There wasn’t actually a ‘tape’
The Ombudsman also clarified that “contrary to media reports at the time” there was never actually any tape of the alleged conversation. The recording was accidentally captured digitally on a “non-removable hard-drive housed inside a camcorder”.
According to the report, there was a difficulty in taking possession of the device in the days following the alleged conversation. First, it was held by a solicitor for Ms A and then it was taken back by Maynooth University, which owns the recorder. Forensic attempts were successful in retrieving deleted files from the device when it was eventually obtained by the GSOC on 14 April. However, some overwritten files could not be saved in a viewable format.
The scientist’s report confirmed that a sequence of deletions from the device had taken place shortly prior to GSOC taking possession of the device.
On accessing the camera, the Ombudsman discovered that the files were deleted by academic staff at NUI Maynooth. One member of staff was interviewed as a result but it yielded “no information of significant evidential value”.
It was later claimed by those responsible for the deletion that the files deleted from the camcorder had no bearing on the investigation being conducted, that they related to confidential information obtained during the course of studies and that this was the reason they were deleted.
A sergeant’s right to silence
The Sergeant travelling in the marked jeep on the day was also found to have a disciplinary case to answer but he has since retired and is no longer subject to garda regulations.
Detailing the interviews held with the other gardaí caught on camera, the report said that “all four confirmed that the use of the word “rape” during this conversation was, at every stage, by their Sergeant and that it is his voice that can be heard on the recording talking of raping the females”.
According to the Ombudsman, the Sergeant “exercised his right to silence” and “largely gave a ‘no comment’ interview”. However, he did say that he had heard the word ‘rape’ used at the scene by someone while the arrests were being made. He could not say who said it or whether the person was male or female.
An interim report last October exonerated all five gardaí of any criminal wrongdoing due to insufficient evidence to support a charge of Misconduct in Public Office contrary to Common Law “or any other offences that may be reasonably considered”.
The investigation has been criticised by several academics at the National University of Ireland (NUIM) who claim that one of the two female protesters, Jerrie Anne Sullivan, was portrayed as “the perpetrator, rather than the victim”.
Both women, referred to as Ms A and Ms B in today’s report, were released without charge on the day of the incident.
The Ombudsman Commission concluded its report by offering assurances that its investigations are conducted in an independent manner “in the public interest”.
24 April 2012