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Report does not reflect full extent 999 calls issue - support group

A group providing support to people who are victims of domestic violence has warned that a report into the cancelling of emergency phone calls does not fully reflect the extent of the issue.

Referencing the 2,932 phone calls that were wrongly cancelled and that may have related to domestic violence, Priscilla Grainger, of Stop Domestic Violence in Ireland, said that they were just the "999 calls that we know of".

"What about when the Garda stations don't answer the telephone? What about when the Garda stations that say 'sorry, but there is no car in the area.' They're the unrecorded ones," Ms Grainger told Prime Time.

Ms Grainger was responding to a report issued by the Policing Authority on Thursday in relation to the cancelling of 999 calls at the four emergency call centres around the country.

The independent review into the cancellation of calls made to gardaí found there were several incident of "substantial shortcomings" in the handling of calls.

The final report found there were incidents where call takers "did not display sufficient skills or take sufficient time" to properly assess the vulnerability of callers.

When the 2,932 calls were cancelled, they were not put on the Pulse Garda system and, therefore, it was unlikely there was any follow up by gardaí.

But not all of those 2,932 calls were listened to as part of the review. A sample number of 210 calls in total were reviewed, including 83 that had been identified already by Gardaí as 'high risk’.

Bob Collins, the chairperson of the Policing Authority

The report finds no serious harm was identified in the calls which were analysed. But, critically, many other callers were never located, so it’s impossible to say if serious harm occurred to any of them.

Ms Grainger said people making calls to 999 in domestic violence situations deserved that their cases received an empathetic and professional response.

"That victim is trying to save their life and the lives of their children. That’s the last hope they possibly have, if they can get to their mobile, that is the last hope they have."

The report found that most 999 call takers are polite, helpful and professional. But there were incidents where some call takers did not display sufficient skills or take sufficient time to properly assess the vulnerability of callers, particularly where communication was difficult due to language barriers, impairment, intoxication, medical condition, or age.

One case with major shortcomings included an incident where the call taker did not ask the caller for contact details and ended the call even though the caller was at that time witnessing what they believed to be a serious sexual crime in progress.

The caller could not be contacted again, and the potential victim of the crime was never located.

Another 999 call wrongly cancelled was from someone with real-time information from a child reporting an ongoing sexual assault on their parent.

Gardaí were dispatched to a scene, but the address was incorrect. The call from the third party had not been kept open until gardaí were at the scene – and the child, the parent, the third party, the real address of the alleged attack were never located.

The report found that, even if this was a bogus call, it should not have been cancelled – given the seriousness of the allegations.

The Policing Authority now intends to close off its investigation of this issue because of the cost, and also a belief that no more can be done for those whose calls were cancelled and who cannot now be located.

Deputy Garda Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon said the report has "shone a light into the control rooms, a light that wasn’t shone before".

She said that, while there were examples of very good practice in the review, there were also "examples where we didn’t display that empathy and that curiosity that one would expect when somebody is calling in from a vulnerable position or a position of crisis."

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