An inquest into the death of Terence Wheelock was adjourned for a fortnight yesterday without hearing evidence to allow for efforts to resolve legal wrangles between his family and the State.
Mr Wheelock, 20, from Summerhill in Dublin, spent three months in a coma before his death last September. He had been discovered unconscious in a cell at Store Street Garda Station in June after being detained on suspicion of involvement in a car theft.
His family do not accept he committed suicide and are seeking an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death.
At the Dublin City Coroner’s Court yesterday, their barrister outlined a series of difficulties the family had when dealing with the authorities.
Sean Gillane said the Wheelocks had been refused the return of Terence’s clothes and other personal effects, including a ligature claimed to have been used by him to hang himself, and had been given no reason for the refusal.
They wanted to have the items forensically examined by an independent expert but could not get the State to co-operate with this.
Mr Gillane said: “For some reason as yet unexplained we are being ignored by the Department of Justice and by the Garda Commissioner in relation to those requests.”
Counsel for the State, Marion Berry, said Mr Wheelock’s personal effects were retained by the gardaí because they were the subject of a district court application under the Police Property Act to be heard in full on March 14, and because of the possibility of a criminal prosecution.
Detective Superintendent Oliver Hanley, who was appointed by the Garda Commissioner to carry out an internal inquiry into Mr Wheelock’s death, confirmed, however, that the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided charges should not be pressed.
Mr Gillane rejected the excuse that the items had to be kept because of the district court proceedings.
“I was in court at the time of the police property application and we were told that we could not have them because of the inquest pending,” he said.
“Now we are told that we can not have them because of the police property application pending. We are between a rock and a hard place.”
The coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, told Mr Wheelock’s parents, who were in court with nine other family members, that he sympathised deeply with them and assured them they would have an opportunity to speak at a later date.
He could not set a date for a full hearing of the inquest but asked the legal representatives to return on March 2 to update him on any developments.
Outside the court, Mr Wheelock’s brother, Laurence Wheelock, said the family had little expectation of getting co-operation from the State and said they would continue to insist on a full independent inquiry.
“The longer we have not got Terence’s clothes, the more likely they will be forensically damaged. All we want to know is what happened on that day,” he said.
The family intend staging a protest at the Department of Justice on March 23, the day Terence would have celebrated his 21st birthday.