WHAT DOES it take to be stabbed to death in Dublin nowadays?
A simple smile, it seems.
That's the shocking message that emerged from our courts this week, following a case in which a 25-year-old woman, Siobhan Whitaker, was convicted of impeding the apprehension of a murderer by cleaning up the crime scene.
The evidence in this case would shock even hardened court-watchers. The victim of the murder was 21-year-old Maurice Martin, knifed to death in 2009 by a notorious Dublin criminal, Daniel Gaynor.
A deranged, violent psychopath, Gaynor stabbed this man more than a dozen times after encountering Martin at the home of Siobhan Whitaker (right).
Gaynor claimed that the young man had smiled at his girlfriend.
Even by the brutal standards of Dublin crime nowadays this killing was extreme. Mr Martin was stabbed 14 times, with wounds in the lungs, liver and back of his neck.
One lesson to be taken from this case is the fear that thugs like Gaynor – who was subsequently murdered over a different matter – can instill in the community. Whitaker claimed she cleaned up the scene because "Daniel was not a man to cross". His word alone was enough to terrify her into covering up a murder.
But there's a second lesson to be taken from this case, and it's linked to the spate of violent deaths we've seen since the start of the year. It concerns the nature of murder scenes and the effects seeing them can cause.
I can only imagine the scene that confronted Whitaker in the wake of the killing. I don't know how she cleaned it up, but I'm sure it wasn't pleasant. I can assure you, as a veteran investigator of many murders, that the scene of a knife killing is nothing like the relatively-sanitised version we see in TV dramas.
Real-life murder scenes are stomach-churning, even to experienced investigators. I still suffer flashbacks and nightmares because of some gruesome murder scenes I saw over the years.
One of these was the murder of two elderly brothers in the early 1980s in Co Mayo. The two innocent men were tied up and beaten to a pulp. The scene looked like an abattoir. Another scene that's remained with me is that of the murder of a colleague, Garda Michael Clerkin, who was killed by the IRA in Garryhinch, Co Laois, in 1976.
In that instance a gas cylinder bomb had been detonated. The murder scene was one of utter carnage and devastation, the victim blown to pieces. I remember how myself and my fellow detectives spent hours trying to locate body parts.
But the worst crime scene I ever encountered was the aftermath of the Dublin bombings in 1974. The images I witnessed that day will haunt me for the rest of my life, especially what unfolded at the Dublin City Morgue, where I spent hours with colleagues coffining the victims.
Such scenes, which are often forgotten behind amidst the headlines and other details of crimes, are the reality that confronts gardai, paramedics and unfortunate witnesses.
Siobhan Whitaker was jailed for 18 months for cleaning up the murder scene at her home.
I just don't know how she had the stomach to do it.