'There wasn't a mark on him'

Terence Wheelock's family say they have been thwarted by the State in their attempts to find out what happened to him in Store…

Terence Wheelock's family say they have been thwarted by the State in their attempts to find out what happened to him in Store Street Garda station, writes Kitty Holland

The reaction of Terence Wheelock's mother, Esther, in the lobby of Dublin City Coroner's Court yesterday evening was one of devastation. Two of her daughters supported her as she leant, weeping, into their shoulders.

A jury of three men and four women had minutes earlier returned a split verdict, four to three, that her son had taken his own life. They agreed he had hanged himself in Store Street Garda station in June 2005, and had died in the hospital three and a half months later, of complications arising from the incident.

The implication was that there was no doubt he intended to kill himself and that there was no third-party involvement in his death.

June 2nd 2005, the day Terence Wheelock (20) from Dublin's north inner city was arrested just yards from his home, was a "beautiful, sunny day", recalls his older brother, Larry. Terence had been painting his bedroom in the family home at Sean O'Casey Avenue and needed a new paintbrush. It was coming up to noon.

"I had seen him earlier that morning. It was a gorgeous day. He was wearing grey shorts. There wasn't a mark on him, I remember that clearly. He was getting his room together and planning on going to a 40th birthday party that night. He'd bought new clothes and everything for it." His brother's bike had a slow puncture, he says. He needed a pump and had "knocked into a neighbour" to get one.

"Terence didn't know but there was a stolen car out the back of the house. The guards arrived on the scene and when he saw them he took off. The police chased after him and three others. The lads stopped and the four of them were arrested and bundled into the back of the Garda van."

THIS VERSION OF events is largely corroborated by arresting gardaí, and by Simon Doherty, one of Terence's co-arrested. During his sentencing, Garda Tadhg O'Leary told the court the four had handed themselves over to the Garda, adding it had never been the State's case that they had stolen the Toyota Yaris.

Doherty would later tell the Dublin City Coroner's Court that neither Terence nor another of the arrested, Gary Gifford, had anything to do with the taking of the car. The State entered a "nolle prosequi" against Gifford in February. The fourth man arrested, Noel Hudson, was sentenced last November to 12 months, suspended, in connection with the incident.

Larry tells how he saw the Garda van leave as he turned onto Summerhill from Buckingham Street: "I was going to run after the van but my mother was very upset so I stayed with her." He says he was in the house later that afternoon, reading in his bedroom, when, at about 4pm, his sister knocked on the door. "She said the cops were at the front door and Terence was after trying to hang himself. I just thought, 'No way is that right'."

Terence had been taken by ambulance to the Mater Hospital two and a half hours after he was taken into custody in Store Street Garda Station. He was in a coma from which he would never emerge and he died there, three months later, on September 16th.

His family was with him when he died, says Larry. His sister was holding his hand. His mother Esther had washed and shaved him every day. "She and my dad will never recover from this," says Larry. "A mother should never bury her own child. And I am not going to rest until I find out what happened to Terence."

The case has consumed him for two years. "I try to keep it away from my parents. They have enough to cope with."

Larry's unease with what may have happened to Terence began "as soon as I saw him in intensive care.

"The first thing I noticed were the marks on his face and hands. And his lips were swollen. There wasn't a mark on him that morning. And then the ligature mark was so clean and so straight. I thought it just looked peculiar. I thought it would be more dragged looking, more up around his head if he'd been hanging."

The State Pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy, has said there was nothing unusual about the ligature mark.

Terence's mother, says Larry, "collapsed" when she saw her son in the intensive-care unit for the first time. His sisters were crying and trying to comfort his parents. "Instinct told me something had happened to Terence and he hadn't done it himself."

Asked whether Terence might have been frightened to be in a police cell, Larry half smiles and then shakes his head: "To be honest, no, it wouldn't have fazed him."

Terence had spent some time in custody, having served sentences in Trinity House and St Patrick's Institution. There were also two bench warrants outstanding against him when he was arrested. He had not, however, been in detention for over two years.

According to his family, he had just completed a "safety pass" construction-worker course and planned to go into carpentry with his older brother, Robert. "He was in very good form, had lots of plans." He was also in the process, says Larry, of repairing relations with an ex-girlfriend - not with a view to renewing the relationship but to begin to get to know his daughter. "He had an awful lot to live for," he nods. "I really would prefer if Terence had taken his own life. I'd prefer to believe he had had a say in what had happened."

An Garda Síochána maintains that Terence tried to hang himself, and was found by Garda Mary Murphy, the duty jailer that day, in cell number seven sometime around 2.30pm "half lying, half sitting" with his "eyes closed" and his face "yellow". A ligature fashioned from his tracksuit cord, the Dublin City Coroner's Court was told, was around his neck and he had hanged himself from the alarm box on the cell wall. Evidence was given of attempts to revive him.

His family have never believed this version of events. They say marks on his body show Terence had "taken a beating" in the cell that afternoon. Gardaí strenuously deny this, while Dr Cassidy told the Dublin City Coroner's Court this week that, having examined photographs of the injuries sustained by Terence, while she would not rule out an assault on him, she would have expected other injuries if there had been one.

Significantly, however, none of the marks on his body was noted by arresting gardaí when he was taken into custody, though some suggested they might have been sustained during efforts to resuscitate him. Dr Cassidy, who carried out a post mortem on Terence, said he died as a result of complications caused by hanging. The family's pathologist, Dr Carl Gray, who is based in Leeds and who also performed a post mortem, agreed with Dr Cassidy.

Now the inquest jury has returned its verdict of suicide.

The family described the inquest as something they "had to get out of the way". As is standard practice, they were not allowed call their independent witnesses, and said they had not expected to get "credible answers" to the questions they have been raising since June 2005. They have not been alone in posing what they feel are still-unanswered questions.

Among those who visited Terence in hospital was local Labour Party TD Joe Costello. He raised his concerns in the Dáil at the time and called for an independent inquiry. Among those who have added their voices to this call have been Independent TD Tony Gregory, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Féin councillor Christy Burke, Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, human rights solicitor Michael Finucane and, most consistently and helpfully according to the family, local Labour Party councillor Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who has organised numerous meetings and spoken at several marches and rallies.

The family's suspicions have been compounded by their having been, as they see it, "thwarted" by the State in their efforts to ascertain what happened. It took over a year of legal wrangling for them to get access to Terence's clothes. They finally got access on December 12th last year when Lee John Fagan, an independent forensic scientist with Keith Borer consultants based in England, carried out a forensic examination of them at the Forensic Science Laboratory in Dublin.

IT IS WORTH noting the only mark recorded on Terence's clothes when he was taken into custody was paint on his tracksuit bottoms.

Fagan's report - which was not admitted as evidence at the inquest, as the coroner is precluded from admitting independent evidence which rebuts State evidence - has been seen by The Irish Times. It notes a "heavy soaked-in" blood stain on the "upper inside centre back" of Terence's tracksuit bottoms. A similar stain is on the boxer shorts. "In my opinion it is likely that this blood had soaked through the shorts and tracksuit bottoms from the inside and while the items were worn. It would fit, for example, with blood loss from Mr Wheelock's anus," says Fagan.

He goes on to note spots on the lower front leg, "the result of projected blood droplets landing on the tracksuit bottoms"; a "heavy . . . contact stain on the outside upper front of the right leg", which he believes has been "formed from a volume of fluid blood being introduced to this part of the tracksuit bottoms", and "a collection of downward directional blood splashes on the outside back of the left thigh" among other blood stains on the trouser legs.

Following examination of a Nike T-shirt, with the slogan "Just Do It", that Terence had been wearing, Fagan notes blood staining and "numerous stains and marks including fluid (vomit-like) staining down the front and around the collar". Four separate instances of stains caused by "wet blood" - including "air-borne droplets" and "smears" - are noted.

He also notes DNA profiles from the blood samples were completed. The profile of that taken from the T-shirt differed from the "male profile" taken of the sample from the tracksuit bottoms. "Therefore this blood originated from a different source."

Dr Gray, the forensic pathologist who carried out the post-mortem for the family's legal team, gave his opinion on Fagan's findings. Although vomiting may occur from an initial hanging attempt, which "would be nauseating", he notes there was no double ligature mark on Terence's neck - suggesting no repeated attempts at hanging. "The most likely explanation is that the T-shirt was previously vomited upon."

He also says anal bleeding is "not a usual feature in hanging cases". Though this could be explained by minor anal trauma or a cut caused by constipation, it could also have been caused by injury and anal trauma to the anal area.

None of this evidence has been allowed to be tested in the Coroner's Court. It gives compelling reason, says the family solicitor Yvonne Bambury, for an independent inquiry, which they will now forcefully seek.

The State's examination of the blood and vomit on the clothes was discussed yesterday. Dr Hilary Clarke, forensic scientist at the State Forensic Science Laboratory, said it was her opinion that the stains were consistent with blood loss during medical treatment.

HOWEVER, SHE OFFERED her own caveat on several occasions, that she was "not a medical doctor and not familiar with medical interventions". The information she had on Terence's medical treatment, she added, was from Insp Seán Campbell and notes provided by the Mater.

Bambury told The Irish Times this week that, given the legal constraints on the Coroner's Court: "the real battle is not here. It will be elsewhere". The family has lodged a complaint with the Garda Ombudsman and they will hear this week whether their concerns will be investigated. If the Ombudsman refuses, they will go to the High Court, seeking an order that Terence's human rights under the European Convention have been contravened, and compelling the State to establish an independent inquiry into his death.

Speaking last February, at one of the many "Justice for Terence" protests that have taken place in the past two years, Tony Gregory said that, based on the evidence gathered by the family, the then minister for justice, Michael McDowell would "have no choice" but to order an independent inquiry once the inquest was over. At the same protest, Joe Costello asked: "How could a young healthy, happy young man go into Store Street Garda station and come out with fatal injuries and die three months later? That is a death that deserves a public inquiry."

Last night, the Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan, said: "This matter will now be given careful consideration in light of the verdict."