Sex abuse disclosure could have caused `explosive reaction'
A CONSULTANT psychiatrist told the Torney murder trial yesterday that there could be an "explosive reaction" if a boy accused of sexual abuse was threatened with disclosure.
The doctor was giving evidence in the trial of RUC Constable John Torney (40), who denies the murders of his wife, Linda (33), and his children, John Jnr (13) and Emma (10) at their home in Lomond Heights, Cookstown on September 20th, 1994.
Mr Torney has claimed that his wife and daughter were shot by his son, who then committed suicide.
Earlier this week, two school friends of Emma's gave evidence that she had told them her brother was sexually abusing her and had attempted to rape her.
The Belfast Crown Court jury was also told that John Jnr had threatened to kill Emma if she told.
Dr Arnon Bentovin, a consultant to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, London, said in evidence that if the girl had told on her brother there could have been an explosive response.
"If a person who has been responsible for an abusive act is warned that this is going to be spoken about, this could have an explosive effect for that individual who fears that all may be revealed," Dr Bentovin said.
"That is assuming that he had been doing that?" Lord Justice Carswell interjected.
"Yes. But in the current times it might well be that if someone was threatened with something that was not true, this, too, could provoke a good deal of resentment".
Dr Bentovin referred to a study in North America of family murders carried out by young people between the ages of 12 and 16 which showed that the boys concerned had a high level of defiant conduct.
They often had problems of attention and defiant behaviour, and although not many were seriously depressed, they thought frequently about suicide.
Mr Andrew Donaldson QC for Mr Torney, asked about John Jnr's interest in military matters. Dr Bentovin said conduct difficulties were often associated with boys who had an interest in the military and guns.
"In my view, there is some consistency with saying John could come into this group."
Dr Bentovin said he was aware that for some time before the shootings the family had been dysfunctional.
The doctor also said that school reports and the headmaster's evidence indicated that John Jnr had been punished frequently could be disruptive in class and had poor attention and concentration.
He was also considered to be a "difficult" youngster, and his conduct had led the school principal to consider him at risk of suspension.
Mr Donaldson asked Dr Bentovin for a diagnosis of Constable Torney's condition after considering the evidence and his conduct after the event.
"I feel his behaviour was absolutely characteristic of an acute stress reaction," the doctor replied.
He explained that such a condition sometimes included a state of daze and disorientation followed by partial or complete amnesia. This might appear within minutes and disappear within a few days.
"In my view, despite his ordinary personality functioning for the most part, these events would certainly cause traumatic stress. Because of the amnesia associated with it we do not know the factor which may have precipitated this."
Mr Donaldson "Torney can remember a bang, waking up to see his son with black hands, and hear him screaming and shouting and handing him notes, but he does not recollect having seen the condition of his wife."
Dr Bentovin "It could well be that if he woke up and saw the condition of his wife, that event, itself could have been sufficient to have precipitated his acute stress reaction and the amnesia."
Asked why Mr Torney had not heard the other shots which must have been fired, Dr Bentovin answered that if something had triggered an acute stress reaction with associated amnesia, Mr Torney would have been "on automatic pilot".
Questioned about Mr Torney's description of his son as "berserk", the doctor said an individual who had got himself into a state to commit such actions would have been extremely tense, in a high state of anger, and could be said to be "going berserk".
Under cross examination the doctor said the description of the boy shouting and telling his father to leave was consistent with someone who could carry out an act efficiently.
Asked why the boy had not, shot his father, Dr Bentovin said "I think his relationship with his father was a far more positive one, and his relationship with his mother and sister a more negative one."
Dr Bentovin said that the possibility that John Jnr had carried out the shootings must be seriously considered.
In re examination, Mr Donaldson asked the doctor if a man who was "brutal, cunning and treacherous enough" to plan these killings, would be the kind to suffer from a stress reaction.
Dr Bentovin replied that he thought it would be unlikely.
Closing addresses to the jury will begin this morning. A verdict is not expected until next week.