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Monday 19 November 2018

Ombudsman to begin probe into Wheelock prison death

First 'public interest' inquiry since Garda body was set up

Tom Brady and Breda Heffernan

THE Garda Ombudsman Commission has decided to investigate the case of Terence Wheelock (20) who, an inquest jury found, committed suicide in a Garda cell.

This will be the first 'public interest' investigation by the commission since it started operating in May.

Rather than acting on a specific complaint, it decided, in the public interest, to exercise an option to look into the circumstances surrounding the death.

Mr Wheelock was found hanging, by a cord from his tracksuit bottoms, in his cell at Store Street garda station, Dublin on June 3, 2005. Last night his family welcomed the decision, saying it was a step in the right direction.

The commission said yesterday it had taken the view that "it is necessary to investigate any possibility of any failure by any member of the Garda Siochana in allowing for the presence of the cord in the cell and any act of omission" by gardai surrounding Mr Wheelock's arrest and detention that might have contributed to his death.

This was the first investigation under section 102 (4) of the Garda Siochana Act 2005, it said, which allowed it to intervene without receiving a complaint about garda conduct.

A spokesman said there had been complaints about certain aspects of the case but the investigation would embrace all the issues.

Senior investigating officer Brian Doherty will head the investigation.

Mr Wheelock died in the Mater Hospital, Dublin on September 16, 2005. He had spent three months in a coma after being found unconscious in his cell.

A jury returned a majority verdict of death by suicide at an inquest two weeks ago.

Devastated

Terence's brother Larry said the family had been left devastated by the suicide verdict. The new inquiry had given them some cause for hope.

"We're very enthused the Garda ombudsman is willing to look into Terence's death. For us, our campaign has always been for a full independent, public inquiry and this is a step in that direction.

"The verdict in the Coroner's Court upset the family a lot. This coming so soon after has given us some hope."

Mr Wheelock said an official from the ombudsman's office had contacted the family yesterday morning to inform them it was to launch an inquiry for various reasons. Among these were that it is in the public interest to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death; the close nature of the verdict (a four-to-three majority), and the injuries on Terence's body.

The official also told the family that the results of an independent engineer's report into the death, in which he claimed that a garda photograph of the cell was a "reconstruction", had also prompted them to open an inquiry.

Mr Wheelock said the family would submit to the new investigation that report and other independent expert evidence they had collected.

Dublin city coroner Brian Farrell told the inquest jury there was no evidence of third-party involvement in the death. "The evidence would seem to indicate that, for whatever reason and out of the blue, Terence Wheelock took his own life."

There was no evidence that he had been physically abused, he added.

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