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Terence Wheelock

As Yvonne noted yesterday, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission have published their report into the death of Terrence Wheelock. They found no evidence that Mr Wheelock had been phsyically or sexually assaulted in custody but did make a number of recommendations as regards Garda procedure, which Yvonne has detailed. The Wheelock family remain dissatisfied and have announced that they are seeking a full public inquiry and have threatened to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights.

At this point a number of observations can be made about the both the findings contained in the report but also the procedure adopted by the Commission.

    Findings

On the specific instances the Commission found that while Guards searched Mr Wheelock’s clothes for any items which might cause injury and removed his shoes which had laces, he was permitted to retain the cord of his tracksuit bands, which the medical evidence satisfies was used as a ligature. There was at this time ‘a lack of clear instruction’ on searches of prisoners. Two months after (before Mr Wheelock had passed away) a new directive was issued stating that any items which could potentially cause harm or injury should be removed. It is most dissappointing that in a place of detention (and heigtened situations for any prisoner) this was not the case prior to the summer of 2005.
Of concern is also the fact that at times Mr Wheelock went unchecked in the station for over forty minutes. The regulations required prisoners under the influence of drugs or alcohol be checked every fifteen minutes. Again, given that self-harm and suicide do not only occur in prisoners who are intoxicated this is clearly an insufficient requirement, particularly given that it should not be overly tasking to require more regular visits.
Disturbingly, it was in fact the cell alarm which had been used as the ligature point. A review of all custody cells has been ordered to ensure that ligature points do not exist.
The combination of these factors is particularly worrying given the obligations on the State when detaining citizens. We have commented repeatedly on this blog on the serious concerns expressed by various bodies, including the ECPT, about the conditions for persons in custody in this state.
In addition to these matters, a number of mistakes were also made in filling in the custody record (wrong name of arresting officer and wrong time at which Mr Wheelock was found unconscious) which would have serious repercussions for the family, who were initially sent to the wrong hospital by the Gardai. It is very easy to see how such mistakes would create deep distrust of the officers involved. Indeed one of the specific complaints of the Wheelock family was that they delayed in calling an ambulance. GSOC found that this was not the case, but that the time recorded was five minutes early. Four years ago the Morris Tribunal expressed serious concerns at the operation of the role of the Member in Charge, who has responsibility for this record, and here again similar concerns are expressed. GSOC came to the conclusion:

That An Garda Síochána introduce a specialist role for Garda members charged with the responsibility for the custody of prisoners. This dedicated custody officer role should be given to members with the necessary experience and ability to carry out such a function. The role should only be carried out by members trained to a high standard in all areas of the custody function.

    Procedure

This is the first report of an investigation conducted under s.102 of the Garda Siochana Act, which provides the Commission the power to conduct an independent investigation where it believes it to be in the public interest. What is also noteworthy about this case is that the Commission also exercised its power under s.84 to consider a case where the incident occured outside of the standard time limits (usually complaints must be made within six months of the incident). In this case the Commission was not actually in existence when the event occured. The requirement for this to occur is that there exist ‘good reasons for doing so’. It is encouraging to see the willingness of the Commission to exercise this power.

What is also encouraging is the breadth of the investigation conducted in this instance. The matter had previously been investigated internally and had been through the Coroners Court. Nonetheless the Commission managed to secure statements from a number of witnesses who had not previously come forward. They also secured a copy of a tape of an interview which was being conducted in the Station at the time that Mr Wheelock was found, and through forensic examination, managed to distill some of the speech in the following commotion. This evidence gave some credence to the garda explanation of events. The Commission investigation were also able to put a number of the allegations to the officers involved. This process sits in stark contrast to what would have occured during the internal investigation whereby Garda investigators can only take statements from interested parties and cannot challenge the statements given or put the evidence of others to those persons. As a result, a more complete picture could be garnered from the Commission investigation.

What is dissappointing, however, is the length of time which this investigation has taken. Following represenations from the Wheelock family, the Commission began its work in July 2007, with the report published in March 2010. While the thoroughness is essential this has still prolonged the process substantially for the families involved. It is now close to five years since Mr Wheelock’s death, and nearly three years since the jury at the coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of death by suicide. It is difficult to see how this aligns which the stated objective of the Commission “to promote public confidence in the process for resolving those complaints” (s67 of the 2005 Act).

The death of Terence Wheelock is a tragedy and, quite possible, was preventable. The GSOC investigation has provided a depth of review and findings which had not previously been conducted but it appears to have come too late to allay any of the concerns of the Wheelock family.

Categories: Policing Tags: ,
  1. March 11, 2010 at 10:58 pm | #1

    and what about the conduct of the police offices afterwards the whole station needs investigation

  2. Vicky Conway
    March 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm | #2

    Can I ask when exactly you mean? This investigation did consider the immediate aftermath of the incident (as in the hours following), the allegation that police provided photographs which were reconstructions and the concerns as to why the cell was repaired/repainted so quickly and found no wrongdoing with regard to any of these. Were there other points that should have been investigated?

  3. March 13, 2010 at 9:26 am | #3

    if you’re interested look on the on going harassment of the wheelock family on indymedia.ie

  4. Vicky Conway
    March 13, 2010 at 11:02 am | #4

    Thanks – will look at that. I wasn’t aware of that.

  5. anthony
    March 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm | #5

    A lot of questions have not been addressed by the commision in its report.
    which have been consistendly raised by the wheelock family.
    For instance even though gardia stated there where no marks and bruises on terence body, there is photographic evidence that there WAS substantial bruiseing on his body, and clothing ie. underwear, tracksuit bottoms were bloodstained, which incidently has been shown to the media . marie cassidy at the coroners court breifly addressed these issues under cross examination, stating that they warranted further investigation. futhermore gardai directly involved would not cooperate with the commission and used there membership of the Garda representative association (GRA)refusing to answer any questions under the union diretorship. it is therfore not surprising that the commision has come up with these findings it has not given any real creadability and questions asked by the family have Not BEEN ANSWERED even though it has been a lenghty investigation, in fact it looks like a whitewash. i think the family will have to go to europe for answers nothing has really changed in this country.

  6. vconway
    March 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm | #6

    To be fair, the first two matters you mention are considered in great detail by the report. The bruising is fully documented from the photographic evidence but the Commission found, on the basis of Marie Cassidy’s evidence in particular, that this was not consistent with an assault. The blood staining was also examined and the Commission appears to have been satisfied that this occured during the course of treatment in the hospital though there really was no conclusive evidence either way. The lack of semen appears to have been the basis for concluding that no sexual assault occured. I’m not saying that the findings are right or wrong, but it’s unfair to say it’s not addressed these issues.

    As for the guards relying on the GRA I’ve not heard this before in relation to this case but what I will say is that this is one of the (on paper) improved areas of garda investigations under the 2005 Act. It is now a disciplinary offence meriting dismissal to fail to co-operate with investigators of the Commission. If you are correct in what you say then it would be exceptionally worrying if they weren’t co-operating. The GRA can do nothing for them in that position but if its not being investigated internally (which I appreciate would not come as a shock to many) then this would be very disturbing. The Commission did not report that officers failed to co-operate and they have detailed the interviews they conducted with those involved. Personally, I’d like to believe that after the frankness of Justice Morris in addressing this point, we’d come to a stage where investigators could speak out.

  7. March 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm | #7

    FYI Ken Foxe claims that the report as released “differs substantially from the one that has been given to the Garda Commissioner and also to the Wheelock family”: http://www.kenfoxe.com/2010/03/terence-wheelock-and-his-injuries/

  8. vconway
    March 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm | #8

    wow… i’d not seen photos before. hard to align with the GSOC report.

  9. anthony
    March 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm | #9

    addressing vicky comments, the fact of the matter is gardai themselves publicly stated and there own custody records stated that terence wheelock had no bruising what so ever, there words.. now somewhere between the store st garda station and the matear hospital he sustained significant brusing and grazing to all parts of his body. This has not been explained at all. as for the blood on this young mans underwear, it is not creadible to say that this happened at the hospital it is not subtainated in any way by staff at the hospital.
    in fact when he was eventually brought to the hospital staff there took it on themselve to photograph his bruising and clothing. as for the Gardai “cooperation” with the commission it is said there union demaned a written Q/A BEFOR there so called interview. simply whitwashing this mans death in police custody by saying it was down to human mistakes is appaling
    the gardai from the get go orchestrated a cover up by lying to the family doctoring custody records and lying to the coroners court contradicting each others testimony. this was the only time the public got a glimpse at this the verdict was a 3/2 with a direction from the coroners himselve to find a verdict of suicide. the whole thing stinks to high heaven the only wasy justice is seen to be done is a full public inquiry for the family of terence, the commmsion as glossed over many questions in this case has not given credile explanations and has played down the marks and bruising and blood stained clothing, and stinks of minipulation and it was all done behind closed doors. MY view it that commisson is a suped up version of the defucnt complaints board or board with complaints, it has destroyed any credability it had. I think this family will refuse to be railroaded. i sincerely hope that someday they will get justice.

  10. Vicky Conway
    March 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm | #10

    Yes Anthony, having seen the extent of the bruising on Terence I can’t fathom how that wasn’t noted if it was present at the time of his arrest.

    The idea that the family and the Commissioner got a different version of the report is very worrying.

    I’ve written elsewhere of my concerns that GSOC is not much better than the complaints board and completely agree with you on that.

    There do seem to be some very troubling aspects to this case remaining in spite of this report – we’ll try and keep an eye on it on this blog as much as possible.

  11. Vicky Conway
    March 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm | #11

    Readers may be interested in this piece from Indymedia from around the time this investigation was started. It gives a bit more on the background, and the experiences of the Wheelock family after Terence’s death: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/83725?search_text=wheelock

  12. anthony
    March 15, 2010 at 4:54 pm | #12

    i agree vicky

  13. March 17, 2010 at 5:01 pm | #13

    the t-shirt issue is bizarre, ie finding it under him a couple of days later (not several) but look at this re the gauze stuffed in number of people mouths in the hospital… https://www.tribune.ie/archive/article/2008/aug/03/mater-apologises-after-admitting-terence-wheelocks/

    shows a chaotic hospital

  1. March 12, 2010 at 11:53 am | #1
  2. March 12, 2010 at 11:34 pm | #2
  3. April 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm | #3
  4. April 28, 2010 at 8:36 pm | #4

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