'Spin and misinformation' in GSOC 'rape tape' investigation

A document examining the handling by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) of its investigation into the Corrib ‘rape tape’ incident in Co Mayo on 31 March 2011 has described the manner in which that investigation was conducted as “deeply troubling”.

Titled 'Garda Ombudsman: Spin and misinformation' the document was published last Thursday and prepared by Jerrie Ann Sullivan (one of the women about whom the ‘rape’ comments were made), by seven academics at NUI Maynooth and by Dublin Shell to Sea. It concludes that:

“GSOC’s investigation bears all the hallmarks of a media campaign rather than an independent inquiry. 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 document details the following:

• During the course of its investigation GSOC threatened criminal prosecution against Jerrie Ann Sullivan and several academics at NUI Maynooth and Caoimhe Kerins of Dublin Shell to Sea.

• GSOC’s July 2011 interim report falsely implied that the recording of the incident had been “tampered” with in some way before being given to GSOC.

• The interim report sought to add credibility to a rumour – initially circulated by Garda sources – that the women shouted ‘rape’ during their arrest and that this somehow lessened the seriousness of the Garda rape comments.

• The interim report failed to include any testimony from Jerrie Ann Sullivan or her lecturers, despite hours of questioning of these people, resulting in a report that only presented the Garda side of the story.

• GSOC sources briefed journalists anonymously in a way that undermined the credibility of the people who brought the recording to public attention.

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.

Statement by NUIM academics on the Rossport rape recordings

Much misleading information has been published about the incident near Aughoose on 31 March 2011, when Gardaí were recorded joking about raping and deporting protestors. It is not clear to us what proportion of the mistakes have been a result of limited information (as when the Minister for Justice commented on the Garda Ombudsman’s interim report before reading it), what proportion have been a result of failures of comprehension (as when the Ombudsman Commission failed to understand how electronic files are recorded), and what proportion has been deliberate.

As academics in the Departments of Sociology and Adult & Community Education who have supervised and taught Ms Jerrie Ann Sullivan, we have a duty of accuracy and therefore wish to make the following statement.

1. Despite what has been repeatedly assumed, the Garda Ombudsman Commission investigation into the event is an individual initiative taken by the commissioners, following a call for an inquiry by a TD, rather than an investigation into a complaint by either of the women involved. In common with many people involved in the Corrib Gas issue, they have little confidence in the impartiality of the Ombudsman, a view grounded in the Ombudsman’s poor record on complaints about policing in the area. For this reason, Ms Jerrie Ann Sullivan and her supporters have called instead for a genuinely independent and international inquiry into the whole handling of policing in Erris.

2. From the outset the Ombudsman Commission has treated Ms Sullivan in particular as the perpetrator rather than the victim in this situation. She has been subjected to lengthy and aggressive questioning, on one case up to four and a half hours, and forced to take on substantial legal costs as a result. This pattern has been extended to others involved, not only academics who have been summoned to interview as witnesses but even a union representative whose sole involvement in the case was to be present at the handover of the camera and who was nevertheless questioned for an hour and a half.

3. Two members of NUIM staff were identified, one verbally and one in writing, as “suspects”; they, Ms Sullivan and other members of staff were given written warnings of possible criminal prosecutions for “tampering with evidence”. We immediately queried this as this would only have been conceivable if the actions of the Gardaí in question had constituted criminal acts, but received no adequate response. It was only following Lorna Siggins’s Irish Times article of 31 October 2011 that the Ombudsman informed one of the two academics identified as “suspects” that there would be no prosecution. Most recently, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has ruled that RTÉ claims that the recording had been “tampered with” were misleading and must be corrected in broadcasts before the 6.01 and 9 o’clock news on December 7th 2011.

4. The video camera on which the Garda comments were recorded was an NUI Maynooth one, used by Ms Sullivan for postgraduate research. It thus naturally contained her research material, which consisted among other things of a lengthy group interview. As is normal for academic research, this interview was given on condition of confidentiality, a condition required by NUI Maynooth’s own research ethics principles, the ethical code of the Sociological Association of Ireland and agreements with those interviewed. There can be no doubt that Ms Sullivan thus had a professional duty to safeguard the confidentiality of this material. This duty is substantially similar to journalists’ responsibility to protect their sources, although to date this seems not to have been recognised in reporting on the issue.

5. Despite newspaper uses of the phrase “rape tape”, this camera records video onto a hard disk, as separate date-stamped files. Our own technical experts verified the fact, widely known to most ordinary people, that one such file can be deleted without compromising the integrity of other such files. The file deleted had been recorded some weeks prior to the incident of the rape remarks. We are thus at a loss to understand the Ombudsman’s claim that this file constitutes evidence in any way.

6. An Ombudsman investigator stated to one of the NUIM academics questioned that the PSNI’s technical services, to whom the camera was sent, had succeeded in restoring the data. If this is true, it is clear that no substantial material relevant to the Garda remarks on rape was discovered - and underlines the irrelevance of the research data to the investigation at hand.

7. Repeated attempts were made by academics involved to negotiate the deletion of this confidential research data by a mutually acceptable third party in the presence of a representative of the Ombudsman. These were rejected out of hand, with no justification offered. It is unclear to us whether this refusal was due to a failure to understand the workings of everyday electronic equipment or for some other reason.

8. Throughout this process, the Ombudsman Commission has shown no ability to understand either the researcher’s duty of confidentiality or the workings of modern video cameras. Their attitude to the victims has been consistently hostile, recalling past treatment of the victims of sexual violence. Similarly, their treatment of NUIM academics has consisted of hostile questioning, demands for instant responses and threats of legal action. It is not clear what explains the Ombudsman’s behaviour in this respect. {jathumbnailoff}


Dr Bríd Connolly, Dept. of Adult and Community Education, NUI Maynooth

Dr Laurence Cox, Dept. of Sociology, NUI Maynooth

Mr Tony Cunningham, Dept. of Sociology, NUI Maynooth

Mr Fergal Finnegan, Dept. of Adult and Community Education, NUI Maynooth

Dr Bernie Grummell, Dept. of Adult and Community Education, NUI Maynooth

Dr Michael Murray, Dept. of Adult and Community Education, NUI Maynooth

Dr Theresa O’Keefe, Dept. of Sociology, NUI Maynooth


Dr Laurence Cox – 087-9851029

Read the full report here or below.