Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wheelock Investigation

As the summer comes to a close, it is time to review some of the events of the summer. The decision by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to open its first ever public-interest investigation to inquire into the death of Terence Wheelock is to be welcomed. I have been campaigning with the Wheelock family since Terence’s death in September 2005 for an independent inquiry to find answers to the many questions that remain unanswered to this day.
Terence Wheelock died at the Mater hospital in Dublin. He had spent three months in a coma after he was found unconscious in Store Street Garda station on June 2nd 2005. Gardaí told the coroner’s inquest that he had attempted to hang himself with a cord from his tracksuit bottoms. His family continues to dispute this and claims he was mistreated in Garda custody.
Many questions remain unanswered and demand to be answered if An Garda Siochana are to continue to have any credibility in Dublin’s North Inner City or indeed nationwide. Why did it take almost a year of legal wrangling with the Garda Commissioner's office until the Wheelocks were granted access to his clothes last November?
The clothes worn by Terence Wheelock were extensively stained with blood and vomit, according to a forensic report commissioned by his family's legal team. No gardaí who arrested Mr Wheelock or who were at Store Street Garda station in June 2005, when he fell into a coma, mentioned blood or vomit on his clothes at the inquest. However, at the adjournment of the inquest last year, Michael Norton, forensic scientist at Garda headquarters who examined Mr Wheelock's clothes, said there were bloodstains on some of the undergarments. According to the independent forensic analysis of the clothes, commissioned by the Wheelock family legal team, these bloodstains could have been caused by injuries and trauma to the anal area.
Photographs taken in the Mater hospital by a hospital photographer of Mr Wheelock's body and seen by myself show extensive bruising on his arms, legs and torso as well as cuts on his knuckles and single ligature mark around his neck. The photographs of his clothes show clearly bloodstains on his boxer shorts and T-shirt. I have been quoted widely as stating that these photographs are particularly troubling.
A T-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and boxer shorts were examined on behalf of the family at the Dublin Forensic Science laboratory by Lee John Fagan, a forensic scientist with Keith Borer consultants in Durham, England. An opinion on his findings was given by Dr Carl Gray, consultant forensic pathologist based in Leeds. Mr Fagan, in his report dated December 8th, 2006, notes bloodstaining on the tracksuit bottoms, including a heavy soaked-in stain on the upper inside back of the trousers. The blood is said to have soaked through to the outside of the tracksuit bottoms.
Mr Wheelock's boxer shorts are found to have similar stains on the inside back. Mr Fagan is of the opinion that this blood is likely to have soaked through the shorts and tracksuit bottoms from the inside and while they were being worn. He notes vomit-staining down the front of the T-shirt as well as bloodstaining.
In his opinion on Mr Fagan's report, Dr Gray says that although vomiting may occur from an initial hanging attempt which would be nauseating, he notes that there was no double ligature mark on Mr Wheelock's neck to suggest repeated attempts at hanging and he says the most likely explanation is that the T-shirt was previously vomited upon. He also says anal bleeding is not a usual feature of hanging cases. Though it could be explained by minor anal trauma or a cut caused by constipation, it could also have been caused by injury and trauma to the anal area.The coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of death by suicide earlier this summer, but only by the narrowest of margins – by four votes to three. There are other issues in relation to the surgical cleaning of the cell that Mr Wheelock was held in the day after the events in Store Street. Hopefully the Garda Ombudsman Commission will find the answers so that the family can put the death of their son behind them. They deserve no less, decent Gardai deserve their good reputation, and society in general needs to know that everyone has the right to know the truth.