Derek O'Toole: 187 searches

GARDAÍ are to introduce a red-flag system to ensure that officers do not access people's criminal records for anything other than investigative purposes.

The move is part of a crackdown on leaks to the media and the unauthorised use of private garda information by insurance firms and other companies.

Any suspicious searches relating to certain individuals will automatically be notified to Garda Headquarters for examination.

Also, multiple searches on individuals who might have a high profile at a given time will also raise the red flag and be investigated.

The move comes in response to sharp criticisms of the gardaí in a report on the death of Dubliner Derek O'Toole, who was killed after being hit by a vehicle driven by an off-duty officer.

In the 54-hour period after he died, a total of 187 searches were carried out on O'Toole's name using the garda Pulse computer system. Another search was also carried out on a family member, the Garda Ombudsman report said.

One newspaper eventually published information suggesting that O'Toole had a criminal record, which subsequently turned out not to be the case.

The Ombudsman report said at the time: "The commission has been advised that regular checking of Pulse in regard to current incidents by gardaí on duty, or about to go on duty, is regarded within the force as desirable and as good policing practice.

"Nonetheless, the commission is sceptical as to whether the volume of inquiries made in this instance reflects in every case nothing more than legitimate and zealous police work."

The new red-flag system will be introduced when the next major upgrade of the Pulse network takes place and is expected to happen within the next 12 months.

The Department of Justice said: "In response to the report, a review to consider the matters raised and identify options for enhanced usage of the Pulse Audit data in respect of the monitoring of data access has been conducted by the gardaí.

"Specific proposals in this regard have been formulated and are presently under consideration by senior garda management. Under these proposals, an 'exceptional activity level report' and related business process has been advance, which will highlight to Garda Management specific Pulse records, which are subject to a high level of data access activity occurring within a defined period.

"This new functionality will be included in the next major release of Pulse."

Gardaí have already taken measures in response to the Ombudsman's recommendations and now carry out regular reviews of criminal file checking. They are in particular looking out for Pulse checks, which relate to individuals either in the public eye or involved in insurance claims.

Members of the force have been warned that if they fail to log off when using a computer, they could stand accused of having leaked the information themselves.

The Garda Ombudsman's report said officers had frequently carried out searches using other people's log-in details, thus disguising their own identity.