THE Garda Ombudsman has come under fire from a local family over its refusal to initiate an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a 23-year-old banqueting manager in Bunratty 32 years ago.
The criticism of the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) comes in a week when the authority is under the spotlight over its surveillance of journalists’ phones.
The family of the late Patrick Nugent of Feenagh, Sixmilebridge have expressed their disappointment and bewilderment at GSOC’s decision not to commission an investigation into their complaint.
In a letter to Patrick Nugent’s brother, John, GSOC advised him that his complaint is inadmissible on the grounds that it is “out of time”, not having been made within a period of 12 months beginning on the date of the conduct giving rise to their complaint.
“GSOC having considered your complaint finds, based on the information provided by you, that there is not a good reason to extend the time limit in which a complaint can be made.
“Inadmissible complaints are not reviewed by the Commission unless new information, which was not previously available, comes to light and is submitted in writing,” GSOC stated.
John Nugent believes that no time limit should be set in relation to any complaint involving a loss of life and felt that an exception could have been made by the authority in this case. His brother died in February 1984.
Mr Nugent said the family is not in a position to obtain new information as they do not have the training or the authority to do so, as they believe this is what the gardaí or an agency like GSOC was set up to do.
“The onus should not be on the family to come up with new information into the circumstances and who was really responsible for my brother’s death. If GSOC was willing to start this investigation, they might find what they are looking for.
“If a loss of life is not a good enough reason to extend their time limit, then I don’t know what a ‘good reason’ would be. This is a cop out. Surely that is the worst thing that can happen to anyone,” said John Nugent.
GSOC had not responded to a number of Clare Champion queries at the time of going to press.
Recently, Tipperary man Harry Gleeson was granted a pardon 75 years after he was wrongly hanged for murder. Noting that Mr Gleeson’s parents did not find out in their lifetime about the miscarriage of justice, Mr Nugent wondered would he or his children be in the same predicament following GSOC’s refusal.
The Department of Justice recently decided to set up an inquiry into Patrick Nugent’s death.
The death of Mr Nugent was one of the cases examined by the Independent Review Mechanism set up by Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, following a complaint made by the family, relating to alleged garda misconduct in June 2014.
Minister Fitzgerald appointed a panel of barristers to conduct a review. Their role was to review the correspondence and other documentation in each case, examine the action that had already been taken in relation to the issues raised and to advise what further action, if any, might be appropriate.
Having considered the papers in this case, counsel recommended that the minister should appoint a person pursuant to Section 42 of the Garda Síochána Act to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Nugent.
In his complaint to GSOC, John Nugent said after the conclusion of the inquest into his brother’s death in October 1985, the jury attached a rider to the verdict because of the “suppression of evidence by witnesses to the event”.
From both the trial and inquest, Mr Nugent stated, “It was apparent that conflicting and confusing evidence and statements were given by witnesses, including the gardaí.
“Because of the conflicting accounts given by people in the trial and the inquest, I feel that it is the duty of GSOC to re-investigate and find out what exactly happened to my brother on the night he died.
“Under Article 40 of the Constitution of Ireland, the jury at Patrick Nugent’s inquest requested that the Minister for Justice have the matter further investigated. This never happened because ‘no investigative machinery’ was available to the minister at that time,” he stated in his complaint.
Stating that GSOC was not set up until 2007, Mr Nugent pointed out his family had nowhere to make the complaint up to that time.
“My father, Joe, always felt that guards investigating guards was not appropriate. Sadly, he is now deceased but I am sure he would have lodged a complaint with GSOC.
“Until all the facts are known, nothing can be ruled in or out in relation to Patrick’s death,” he stated.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was set up in 2007 to provide efficient, fair and independent oversight of policing. Its principal role is to deal with complaints about the conduct of members of An Garda Síochána.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she has been assured by GSOC that any of its monitoring of journalists’ phones is completely legal.
The Government has asked a former chief justice to oversee a three-month review of the laws on phone surveillance.
John Murray will oversee the review, which will include all agencies with the power to put phones under surveillance.