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"Chats" are for Starbucks, Not Garda Stations

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

Garda Statement Rules: Part 1.


chat, verb

to talk in an informal or familiar manner.

-Merriam Webster, 2020.

THE GARDAI ARE one of the most inventive and clever organisations in the country. I mean that. Back in the 1970’s (before the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act of 1984 which allowed Gardai to detain people for 6 hours in order to investigate a serious crime) they had no ability under law to detain people for questioning unless the offence was a “scheduled offence” under the Offences Against the State Act, 1939 e.g. perjury, riot, public mischief, malicious damage. Detention for the purposes of investigating murder was, surprisingly, not a scheduled offence and so the Gardai couldn’t detain people to investigate even this.

These tactics may seem rather comic,

but they do highlight the innovativeness

of the Gardai.

They always find a way

In State (Bowes) v. Fitzpatrick (1978) the Gardai wished to interview the accused for murder. They believed that a knife had been used by the suspect to commit the offence. The only problem was they had no power to detain him for questioning for the murder. But they could detain him for malicious damage because it was a scheduled offence. So, the really inventive solution they fixed on was to arrest the suspect for malicious damage to the knife used in the murder (I’m serious, they did this), thereby allowing them to detain him for questioning. Unfortunately for them the High Court regarded this as a “colourful device” and deemed the arrest unlawful.

These tactics may seem rather comic, but they do highlight the innovativeness of the Gardai. They always find a way.

WE ARE TOLD that invention is the mother of necessity. What do you do if you are a Detective tasked with investigating an offence for which evidence is scant but where you believe -call it intuition- that Mr. X is responsible; no, not responsible, guilty? You’re sure of it. It’s a gut feeling, you just know.

You’d like to get him into the station to speak with him but there’s a problem: you’ve got no evidence to ground an arrest. Sure, you know in your heart of hearts that he’s responsible, but heart of hearts isn’t grounds enough to arrest him. You need evidence, that tiresome stuff that always gets in the way, fingerprint evidence linking him to the offence, CCTV evidence that puts him at the scene at the commission of the offence, eyewitness testimony, that sort of annoying stuff.

If the offence is minor -say a rock throw through a car window at night -you’ll probably shrug your shoulders and give up. It’s not worth the hassle trying to investigate something that wouldn’t carry much of a prison sentence even if he was convicted and besides, the papers don’t find broken car windows particularly newsworthy these days.

But what if the offence is serious? What if the offence is so serious that its guaranteed to attract media coverage? What if it’s a salacious offence, something, say, with a sexual element? What if the suspect isn’t your typical criminal of the Burberry top and runners brigade? What if the suspect is a respected member of the community, a businessman, a pillar of society so to speak?

Now your case is considerably different, vastly different. This is the kind of case the media loves to gobble up and splash all over the papers. If only you could get him into the station, you’re pretty sure that sooner or later Mr. X will let something slip, make some throwaway comment, some half thought-out statement and then you can pounce, then you can arrest him. He’s soft after all, you’ve concluded, he wouldn’t be able to stand up to strong accusations. His sort crumble very quickly and then you’d have the case you’ve been waiting for ages for, the case that’ll get you the bump-up you deserve.

BUT A PROBLEM persists: how can you lure him to the station so that you can wheedle that incriminating statement out of him? This is extremely delicate, but delicacy is your middle name. You consult your older colleagues, the ones who’ve been around for ages, for millions of years practically. They’ve seen everything. Its important that you frame the request exactly right, they confide. The last thing you want to do is to spook them, because if that happens they’ll go running to their solicitor, and that’s the last thing you want.

The answer is brilliantly simple: you invite him down to the station for “a chat”. Think about the inventiveness in this word. What do you think of when you think about a “chat”? You think of coffee with friends or family in a warm environment. Maybe it’s to catch-up with someone you haven’t seen for a while, maybe it’s to keep your regular weekly or monthly appointment with that special friend. No matter what way you examine it, it’s almost always a pleasurable experience, something you’re looking forward to, something enjoyable in a cafe environment you’ve experienced dozens of times before.

The Detectives have decided that

you’re the suspect but they don’t

have enough evidence to arrest you.

That “evidence” will have to come from you.

A Garda station is none of these things. You are not meeting friends, you are almost certainly not familiar with the surroundings, the atmosphere will not be amiable, and you most definitely will not be drinking coffee. But yet you were thinking of going to the Garda station. The Detective had seemed quote nice and reasonable on the phone, just asking that you might help out with one or two enquiries, and always with the caveat that the environment would be pleasant. He assured you of this because he used the word “chat”. His request had seemed so reasonable. “Maybe you might come down for a chat?” You’re a good law-abiding citizen and you’ve done nothing wrong, so what’s the matter?

Detectives never ask people to call to the station for a chat unless they’re trying to build a case against them. If you’re being asked to the station for a chat, ask yourself whether the request to attend was accompanied by a suggestion that perhaps you might seek legal advice beforehand? The likelihood is that it was not.

The Gardai do not do chats. Ever. They do interrogations and they are rather good at them. The High Court has repeatedly stated that Garda interviews are not supposed to be informal affairs; they are interrogations and by their nature they are adversarial in both tone and delivery.

The Gardai do not do chats.


They do interrogations

and they are rather good at them.

THINK ABOUT THE words being used here: chat. Why use that word? You use that word precisely because you do not want to alarm Mr. X. You do not want to let slip that Mr. X is a suspect -as he almost certainly is- because if he was aware that he was being regarded as a suspect he might do something stupid like talk to his solicitor and the advice received would almost certainly be not to attend. So, its vital that suspicions are not stoked in the slightest. Language is paramount here. Under no circumstances do you mention the words “questioning”, “interview” or any other word that might lead to any suggestion that Mr X is a suspect, the only suspect. Such language would almost certainly trigger panic in Mr. X, driving him straight into his solicitor’s arms, and that would be a disastrous outcome.

So, language is important. The words used must be disarming, but so too must the tone. The tone must be informal, calm, even jocular. It’s important to convey the impression to the uninitiated that there is absolutely nothing to be concerned about, that the request to attend is really rather routine and something that good citizens like Mr. X do all the time. What does it mean to attend? Not very much it seems.

Except this is not true. You’re not helping with enquiries, you’re not going there for a chat. You’re being asked to attend for 2 reasons: the Detectives have decided that you’re the suspect but they don’t have enough evidence to arrest you. That “evidence” will have to come from you.

You’re starting from a position of extreme weakness and you’re doing it completely unawares. Not only have you no idea what’s in store for you, you’re going to be faced by detectives who already believe that you are the guilty party, they just need you to volunteer evidence to confirm that belief. In other words, the form of questioning you’ll be exposed to will be adversarial; the Detectives have concluded that you’re the guilty party, they just need to reverse engineer the evidence that leads to this conclusion. In doing this they’ll ignore evidence that may be favourable to you nd instead focus on evidence that tends to point towards your guilt.

This type of investigation is characterised by what’s known as a “tunnel vision” approach, and every single investigation that has gone horribly wrong both in Ireland and elsewhere has featured this phenomenon. This is the phenomenon where the police fixate on one suspect and convince themselves, no matter what, that this suspect is the guilty party. They then set about constructing their investigation around this conclusion. Inevitably, disaster ensues.

The Detectives have decided that

you’re the suspect but they don’t

have enough evidence to arrest you.

That “evidence” will have to come from you.

DOES THIS HAPPEN all the time? No, of course not. In fact, quite a lot of Gardai and detectives often indicate to potential suspects in advance that they should seek legal advice. However I have increasingly witnessed the underhanded cloak of familiarity being deployed to lure unsuspecting -often vulnerable- people into the entirely unfamiliar environment of a Garda station where evidence, no matter how tangential to the offence being investigated, is sought to be extracted by determined careerists eager to climb the promotion ladder.

In my experience the vast majority of Gardai are good and decent officers and a credit to their profession. But as in every profession there exists a darker thread, an unscrupulous minority for whom the ends justify the means, for whom career advancement is the greasy pole they must ascend, no matter what the cost to others. Such individuals are abhorred by their colleagues but are encouraged and willingly promoted by Garda management as these men are the “true believer” type, the type that get results, that bend rules in pursuit of headline-grabbing crimes that can be leaked in advance to favoured journalists who’ll reciprocate by writing paeans of praise on behalf of their patrons from whose table the crumbs fall.

Perhaps you’re someone for whom none of this is even remotely relevant? Perhaps there’s simply no chance that you would ever find yourself the suspect in a Garda investigation? Perhaps not. But can you say the same for your brothers or sisters? Can you say the same for your teenage sons or daughters? If an unscrupulous member of the Gardai focused on your loved ones and decided to arrest them or ask them to come to the station “to assist with enquiries” how would they hold up?

Professor Dermot Walsh has written extensively on An Garda Siochana for more than 30 years. Few academics know the organisation better and in his book Criminal Procedure Walsh is pretty clear about what the Gardai have in mind when they lack evidence to arrest a suspect: “Accordingly, Gardai regularly resort to the tactic of inviting a suspect to come to the Garda station of his own free will to assist with the investigation”. Language, as ever, is important here. Asking you to come to the station for a chat is a “tactic”.

If you’ve been asked to attend at a Garda station for a “chat” or some such other colourful ruse, always seek legal advice. Your legal rights are exactly that: rights. They are inviolable and are protected by the Constitution of this country since 1937. Make sure you exercise them.

Chats are for Starbucks, not Garda stations.

-Patrick Horan, 2020.

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