Gardai cleared in Wheelock cell death probe
Published 10/03/2010 | 13:04
Gardai have been cleared of mistreating an arrested man who died after being found hanging in a garda cell, it was revealed today.
The Garda Ombudsman said there were failings in the way Terence Wheelock was monitored in custody but ruled officers were not at fault for his death.
The 20-year-old from Summerhill, in Dublin's north inner city, had been arrested over a stolen car and died three months later in the Mater Hospital on September 16 2005 after slipping into a coma.
He had been found hanging from the cord of his tracksuit bottoms, unconscious, in a cell in Store Street Garda station on June 2.
The Wheelock family fought hard for an independent inquiry into his death insisting that he would not harm himself and had been mistreated.
The report, which followed the Garda Ombudsman's first public interest investigation, said Mr Wheelock's death was not a result of garda mistreatment.
However, it identified a number of procedural shortcomings regarding the handling of prisoners in garda custody.
It outlined systemic failures and a lack of clear instruction in several areas which allowed a ligature point to be left in a cell where Mr Wheelock could hang himself from and that officers also allowed him to bring the cord from his tracksuit into the cell.
It said official recording of details of his time in custody were inadequate.
But the Ombudsman, which has been investigating allegations for more than two-and-a-half years and uncovered new evidence and witnesses, said there was insufficient evidence of an assault during the arrest and no credible evidence Mr Wheelock had been mistreated or taunted in custody.
It also said allegations that the young man had been sexually assaulted in custody were wholly without foundation.
A lengthy inquest into Mr Wheelock's death at the City Coroner's Court in July 2007 found he died by suicide.
The jury was told the young man hanged himself in his cell using a ligature fashioned from the cord of his tracksuit bottoms.
The Wheelock family always insisted there was no history of self-harm or depression and questioned why he would take his own life when he was not in any serious trouble.
The Garda Ombudsman recommended an immediate nationwide review of all garda cells to ensure there are no ligature points, assess the feasibility of having CCTV in all custody areas including cells and create a specialist garda custody officer to deal with suspects.
Other recommendations include clear instructions on prisoner searches, custody records and first aid equipment.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said the force had begun modernising stations to remove potential ligature points in cells.
"A number of the actions recommended are already being progressed by An Garda Siochana and are the subject of ongoing work," he said.
Outlining the modernisation, the Commissioner said 10 garda stations have been upgraded with CCTV in custody areas and there are plans to install systems in another five.
Cells and detention facilities in 40 garda stations were assessed two years ago and improvement works are ongoing, he added.
Mr Murphy also said a revised garda custody record was issued last year which provides for risk assessment of every suspect and also notes their condition on arrival.
The Garda Commissioner said the reforms were introduced to enhance the rights and treatment of persons detained.
Mr Murphy offered his sympathies to the Wheelock family.