Friday 20 April 2018

Tom Needham: 'I would save the life of killer Gallagher again'

Retired detective garda Tom Needham at the spot where
he saved the life of killer John Gallagher.
Retired detective garda Tom Needham at the spot where he saved the life of killer John Gallagher.

Stephen Maguire

THE garda who saved the life of John Gallagher after he killed two women has said he would do it again.

Retired detective Tom Needham pulled Gallagher from his car after the killer drove off a pier in 1988.

Earlier the same day, Gallagher had killed his estranged girlfriend Ann Gillespie (18) and her mother, Annie, in the carpark of Sligo General Hospital.

The killer -- chased by gardai -- then drove his Ford Fiesta car off a pier in Donegal Town.

Gallagher handcuffed himself to the steering wheel as he drove into the sea -- in what has long been considered a mock suicide bid because the water was thought to be shallow.

However, the former detective who rescued him said yesterday the water was approximately 10ft deep where the car went in on September 18, 1988.

He added that Gallagher was in the water for a significant amount of time -- and he believes he survived because there was an air pocket.

"By the time the emergency services got there, I would say it was up to 20 minutes (he was in the water)," Mr Needham said.

"I think there may have been a pocket of air in the car which helped him to survive."


Mr Needham, who is from Donegal Town, jumped into the water with bolt cutters and cut the handcuffs before dragging Gallagher to safety.

"When I got him out of the water, I squeezed his stomach very hard and he started to come around a bit," Mr Needham said.

"He didn't say anything because he wasn't in a state to speak."

Looking back to the events almost 25 years ago, Mr Needham, who was then in his 40s, said he was only doing his duty.

"The thinking that any garda has is that it is part of our training," he said.

"Our thought is always on the preservation of life and that's my thought today despite all that has happened."

Mr Needham said he never thought Gallagher was insane because he drove his car and tried to get back to his home in Lifford but was caught.

Gallagher (46) returned to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum this week, 12 years after absconding. He was found guilty but insane of the two killings in 1989.

"Maybe it has started to play on his mind now," Mr Needham said.

"My job was to save his life. He has to live with his actions for the rest of his life and it plays on his mind every day for the rest of his life.

"It's a sentence, even though he might be a free man he has to live with it. It's a life sentence for everyone involved," he said.

Mr Needham, who retired from the force 11 years ago, never received any official recognition for his actions.

Irish Independent

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