independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Five post-mortems carried out in six days

Expert staff shortage puts pathologist's office under pressure

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy. Photo Garrett White/ Collins
State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy. Photo Garrett White/ Collins

PROFESSOR Marie Cassidy performed five post-mortems in just six days as the Office of the State Pathologist struggles to cope with the dramatic rise in violent killings this year, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Her office is so understaffed following the controversial resignation of her former deputy, Dr Khalid Jaber, that on one occasion two days passed before a full post-mortem was conducted on the remains of a man who was beaten to death in his own home.

And just last week, it was a full 24 hours before a pathologist was able to examine the remains of another man who was killed in his Co Offaly home last weekend.

A total of 13 people have died violently since the beginning of the year – more than quadruple the number of killings in the same period in 2013. A public competition to replace Dr Jaber is currently under way.

However, a successor is not expected to be announced for several weeks at least, heaping further pressure on the under-resourced office.

Dr Jaber resigned in November after a disagreement with Prof Cassidy. Prior to his resignation he sent a series of letters to the Department of Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland criticising his boss. He had also rowed with staff in three mortuaries around the country.

His departure means there is now only two full-time officers who can carry out examinations of bodies in suspicious deaths on behalf of the State. Another pathologist, based in the south, provides on-call duties.

As a result of the alarming rise in violent deaths, Prof Cassidy has performed six post-mortems already this year. Five of these were carried out in a six-day spell in early January, including three in three consecutive days.

Prof Cassidy examined the remains of Christy Daly (47), whose body was discovered in a drain in Co Offaly on January 7. The following day she conducted the post-mortem on Thomas Horan, who had been beaten to death in his own home in Dublin's south inner city two days earlier.

Between January 10 and 12 she examined the remains of three more victims, including that of Iona Institute researcher Tom O'Gorman.

Prof Cassidy's sole deputy, Dr Michael Curtis, has also carried out post-mortems on six people who were killed this year – all falling on Sundays or holidays. He examined the remains of Wayne McQuillan (30), the first violent death victim of 2014.

He performed further autopsies on career criminal Michael Devoy (41) on January 19 and on the body of murdered mother Sonia Blount (31) last week.

Dr Margaret Bolster, the assistant state pathologist, has taken over on-call duties. She has performed just one post-mortem examination this year, on the remains of Alexander Karpov, who was killed in Portarlington, Co Laois, last weekend.

The shortage of pathologists means crime scenes have had to be preserved for longer than might be normal.

According to Dr Rahul Pathak, a lecturer in forensic science at the UK's Anglia Ruskin University, who worked as a pathologist for nine years in Zambia, it is important to examine the remains of victims without delay.

"Any case, when it is reported, it should be concluded as quickly as possible. That is what I would like to see. There shouldn't be any delay," he said.

The Department of Justice said information on specific cases was not generally provided by the Office of the State Pathologist.

However, in an statement it insisted: "The necessary operational arrangements have been put in place to take account of the resignation of Dr Jaber and to ensure that a professional and comprehensive pathology service will continue to be delivered."

Dr Jaber had performed post-mortem examinations on the remains of a number of high-profile murder victims, including dismembered criminal Christopher Gaffney and slain Garda Adrian Donohoe.

The department told the Sunday Independent that a public competition has been launched by the Public Appointments Service to find a replacement for Dr Jaber. But it will be another six weeks before the application window closes and it is likely to take several weeks before a suitable replacement is identified.

The position was not advertised until February 7, well over two months after Dr Jaber's resignation was accepted by Justice Minister Alan Shatter. The salary for the advertised position is €141,638.

Prof Cassidy is currently running operations from a cramped, prefabricated portacabin beside the mortuary on the grounds of the Dublin Fire Brigade training centre in Marino, north Dublin.

A department spokesperson said efforts to relocate the office to the former Whitehall garda station on Collins Avenue is being progressed in conjunction with the Office of Public Works as well as other relevant parties.

Fianna Fail justice spokesperson Niall Collins this weekend accused the Government of "sleepwalking" in trying to find a replacement for Dr Jaber and said the under resourcing of the State Pathologist's Office was unacceptable.

"The Government needs to fill the vacancy as soon as possible," Mr Collins told the Sunday Independent.

Sunday Independent

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