Inquiry says Wheelock not harmed by gardaí

 

AN INDEPENDENT investigation into the death of Terence Wheelock, who was discovered unconscious in a Garda station cell, has concluded he was not harmed by gardaí and that allegations he was sexually assaulted were “wholly without foundation”.

However, the investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has found that a “lack of clear instruction and process” allowed Mr Wheelock to bring a ligature into the cell where he was being held.

A “lack of clear instruction” had also led to the presence of a ligature suspension point in the cell.

Mr Wheelock (20), Seán O’Casey Avenue, Dublin, hanged himself from an alarm box in cell seven of Dublin’s Store Street Garda station using a cord taken from the waist band of his tracksuit.

He had been arrested in June 2005 with some friends as part of an investigation into a stolen car.

His brother, Larry Wheelock jnr, said his family were “deeply unhappy” with the findings of the commission’s investigation.

“Terence died behind closed doors and the investigation took place behind closed doors. We want a full public inquiry and we’re willing to go to the European Court of Human Rights.”

The results of the ombudsman’s commission’s investigation were published by the commission yesterday.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy in a statement extended his sympathies to the Wheelock family. He said some of commission’s recommendations, including installing CCTV in Garda stations and improving custody records, had already been acted on.

CCTV had been installed in 10 Garda stations, including Store Street, and five further stations were being worked on.

Mr Wheelock was still alive when found unconscious in the cell on June 2nd, 2005. He never regained consciousness and died in the Mater hospital three months later.

In July 2007, the jury at his inquest returned a verdict of death by suicide. A Garda investigation resulted in a file being sent to the DPP, who decided no gardaí had any case to answer.

The Wheelock family has insisted that Mr Wheelock had no history of self-harm or depression and has questioned why he would take his own life “out of the blue”, when he was not in any serious trouble with gardaí.

When the inquest process concluded, the commission decided to conduct a public interest inquiry into Mr Wheelock’s death. It was the first public interest inquiry it had undertaken.

Such inquiries can be undertaken on any serious issue linked to the Garda, including loss of life if the deceased dies in Garda custody or shortly after release.

All gardaí and medical staff who had contact with Mr Wheelock were interviewed as part of the 2½- year investigation. Some of those arrested with him and other people who were held in the station at the same time were also interviewed.

A statement was taken from the Wheelock family in which it was alleged Mr Wheelock was physically, sexually and verbally abused during his detention. Blood was found on his clothing, including his underwear.

The investigation found there was “insufficient evidence” to support allegations Mr Wheelock was assaulted during arrest. There was “no credible evidence” he was assaulted while in custody,

The allegation of sexual assault was “wholly without foundation”. The allegation Mr Wheelock was “taunted” by gardaí was “not supported by credible evidence”.

However, the inquiry found shortcomings in procedures led to Mr Wheelock having a ligature in the cell and having an opportunity to hang himself with it.

It also found the recording of the details of Mr Wheelock’s detention “fell below appropriate standards”.

GARDA OMBUDSMAN COMMISSION KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

Gardaí should review cells in all stations to remove any points from which prisoners could hang themselves;

Garda should study the feasibility of installing CCTV systems in all custody areas, including cells in stations;

Experienced Garda members should be appointed to new positions with responsibility for overseeing the custody of prisoners in Garda station cells;

Training in custody practices should be provided for those gardaí responsible for overseeing prisoner custody;

Clear and comprehensive instructions should be issued to gardaí around the need to search for and remove potential ligatures from the clothing of those about to be placed in cells;

Comprehensive instructions should be issued to gardaí on the need to maintain full and accurate records around the custody of all prisoners in Garda station cells;

A digital clock should be installed in all Garda stations to record the times of key events when prisoners are being held in cells;

A review should get under way on the provision of safety equipment, including first-aid kits, in custody areas in all Garda stations;

The Garda should review the provision of first-aid training to all members which should address the provision of training to those members in positions overseeing the custody of prisoners in cells;

The Garda should review the provision of equipment that could be used in the cutting of ligatures in all Garda stations where prisoners are detained in cells;

Reviews should be regularly carried out around all potential ligature issues relating to Garda station cells.

CONOR LALLY