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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Senior detective who discovered body of murdered Anne Shortall calls for mandatory counselling for gardaí

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Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

A senior detective who has investigated some of the country's most notorious crimes has called for mandatory counselling for all gardaí who deal with traumatic incidents.

Currently psychological services are available for members of An Garda Síochána when they go to serious incidents like a road traffic accident.

However Detective Sergeant Fergus O'Brien, from Wicklow Garda Station, wants this to now become obligatory.

“Going to the scene of a murder - somebody stabbed to death, somebody shot or some horrific scenes over the years - even someone like myself who’s a long time in the guards carries that baggage, that trauma is inside you.

“We, as AGSI members, would say it’s imperative and it should be mandatory, it should not be optional that a person is referred for counselling and a psychologist.”

Det Sgt O'Brien has been involved in a number of high-profile murder trials including those of Catherine Nevin and Marta Herda. Most recently he arrested Roy Webster for the murder of Anne Shortall.

Det Sgt O'Brien discovered Ms Shortall's remains in Webster's workshop in April 2015.

Recalling the experience, the senior detective said: “In that type of scenario you know a person is dead so you deal with it as best you can.

“The taping of the hands was a very dramatic thing to see in that you know that the end of life experience was very painful.

“It was an experience that stays with you for some time.”

Det Sgt O'Brien was speaking at the Annual Delegate conference for the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) in Killarney.

“The thing about that is, each scene that you go to is a different scene so you can go to a shooting today, in a year’s time you can go to a stabbing. Looking at the scenes are graphic, the descriptions of the scenes are graphic and you have to deal with it.”

He described going to a fatal traffic accident as a young police officer. “It was a terrible scene where a young girl was dead and a pool of blood around her. And obviously you’re shocked, you can get flashbacks as well, these are features of it.

“A senior and an older guard there, he said ‘Fergus you’ve got to put that out of your mind, you’ve got to stand over, find out who that person is and you’ll be going down to notify their family’.”

“Even that sort of dynamic, going down to a deceased person’s family - again horrendous scenes - and no words or no training can prepare you for that.”

Asked if he thought making it mandatory could prove counter productive with gardaí resisting being forced to do something they didn't want to do, Det Sgt O'Brien disagreed.

“If you offer it, there is an element of macho man, these are police officers, they’re tough guys and they don’t show weakness well. I say take the choice out of their hands,” he said. “Let our leaders refer mandatory, you don’t have to get into a big indepth examination of a person’s psyche, just to make sure the contact is made initially so the person can go back on the services that are available, counselling and psychology.”

Explaining the benefits Det Sgt O'Brien argued: “I’ve been with grown men who have cried when you discuss the thing with them and you don’t realise it’s inside you until somebody gets in there and gets it out.”

The importance of mandatory counselling hit home for the senior garda two years ago when he attended a ceremony in Aughrim Street church for those who had died the previous year.

“Nine members who were deceased were prayed for. Some of them died prematurely as a result of suicide. People don’t realise these dynamics.”

He recalled the case of Sgt Michael Galvin, a garda sergeant who took his own life in Ballyshannon garda station Co Donegal over complaints to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

Sgt Galvin, a former Sligo football manager, was never told he had been cleared by GSOC before his death.

“He was missed he was lost. It’s important that we stay on top of that and that we’re adamant. Mandatory is the way to go and force this issue all the time.”

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