Thursday 17 October 2019

Clodagh's legacy: Law reforms at last in family murder cases

Review to prevent State from failing more traumatised relatives in wake of Hawe killings

Murdered: Niall, Ryan, Liam and Clodagh Hawe on holiday together. Ms Hawe and her children were killed by husband and father Alan Hawe in August 2016
Murdered: Niall, Ryan, Liam and Clodagh Hawe on holiday together. Ms Hawe and her children were killed by husband and father Alan Hawe in August 2016
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A major overhaul of how the State deals with cases of familicide is to begin as a result of the outcry over the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her children, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Ministers will today agree to appoint a legal expert to review how families affected by a murder involving a close relative are handled.

The move is an acknowledgement that State agencies have failed families in the past, and will be a first step on the way to providing a lasting legacy for Ms Hawe.

The Cavan woman suffered a horrific death alongside her children - Liam (14), Niall (11), and six-year-old Ryan - at the hands of her husband, Alan Hawe, in August 2016.

It is understood Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan will bring a memo to Cabinet seeking approval to commission an independent specialist to carry out research in the area.

It will focus on two areas:

  • The provision of supports to families who are victims of familicide;
  • And the application of domestic homicide reviews to Ireland.

The study will involve consultation with a range of stakeholders including State agencies, family members of victims and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The development comes after Ms Hawe's mother, Mary Coll, and sister, Jacqueline Connolly, publicly appealed for changes.

The author of the new study will be expected to assess the adequacy and suitability of current policies, protocols, procedures and practices of State services in supporting close family members of those who die in familicides.

They will then make a series of recommendations.

They will also look at international best practice in respect of domestic homicide reviews in order to establish how they could work in this country.

It is expected that the in-depth analysis will take 12 months to complete.

The development comes after Ms Hawe's mother, Mary Coll, and sister, Jacqueline Connolly, publicly appealed for changes.

During a private meeting earlier this year, they told Mr Flanagan: "We were the ones made to feel like criminals; the investigation officers said we were reading too much about the case in the papers and constantly asking questions."

In order to force change, Ms Connolly previously spoke candidly about the trauma on RTÉ's 'Claire Byrne Live' programme and wrote an extensive article in the 'Sunday Independent'.

"There was no initial support," Ms Connolly recalled of the horrific incident.

"I remember the Monday myself and mam trying to contact people and there was nobody there. There was no initial person with us on the day to say, you know, this has happened and take time or anything like that," she said.

A Government source told the Irish Independent that the Justice Minister "is very aware of the devastating effects" a case like this can have on those left behind and the wider community.

"He is understood to want to ensure that clear protocols and guidelines are in place so that the State can provide all supports possible - and do so in a co-ordinated and timely manner," the source said.

Media

The review to be set up by Mr Flanagan is also likely to examine the role of the media in reporting on familicide cases, as well as considering how social media deals with such events. Ms Hawe's family said that, ultimately, they had learned much of the gruesome detail about the murders through the media.

Ms Connolly has told how "online keyboard warriors" attacked the family after they initially allowed Alan Hawe to be buried beside his victims.

"In the stupor of our grieving, literally within hours of trying to come to terms with our loss, without thinking, we agreed to all the family being buried together.

"It was only on our first visit to the graves, the day after the interment, that we became aware of how wrong it was that the murderer was buried with his victims.

"We felt we couldn't 'talk' to Clodagh because 'he' was there," Ms Connolly wrote.

The analysis being commissioned by the Government is also expected to result in domestic homicide reviews becoming common practice in Ireland. The National Women's Council of Ireland and Women's Aid first called for a review of domestic homicides in 2016.

Such reviews have taken place on a statutory basis in England and Wales since 2011.

They involve a multi-agency assessment of the circumstances which led to the murder of a person by a close relative.

A source said Mr Flanagan had already engaged with NGOs on how to implement a regime of reviews, but has concluded that the UK model cannot be directly transposed to Ireland.

"It would need to be tailored for this jurisdiction," said one source familiar with the matter. "The study he is commissioning therefore is expected to define international best practice and how these reviews might apply in Ireland," the source said. Depending on the circumstances, a multi-agency approach would involve the HSE, Tusla and local authorities, as opposed to just the Garda team involved.

Irish Independent

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