Sinn Féin TD accuses gardaí of Wheelock cover-up

GARDAÍ were last night facing allegations of a cover-up over the death of a 20-year-old in custody.

The Dáil was told yesterday there was evidence to suggest Terence Wheelock, from Summerhill, Dublin, died as a result of garda brutality.

Using Dáil privilege — which protects a member from being sued for defamation because of any speech made in the House — Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh criticised the “culture of cover-up” operating within sections of the force.

“For instance, 20-year-old Terence Wheelock died in garda custody in June 2005. Gardaí claimed that he hung himself, but it’s widely believed that he died as a result of garda brutality. And I’ve seen photographs which have seemed to support that conclusion,” Mr Ó Snodaigh said.

Mr Wheelock was admitted to the Mater Hospital after being found unconscious in a cell at Store Street Garda station in June 2005, having apparently attempted to hang himself with a cord from his tracksuit bottoms.

He never regained consciousness and died at the hospital three months later on September 16, 2005.

“The Wheelock family’s solicitor had secured a court order to preserve the cell for forensic evidence,” Mr Ó Snodaigh told the Dáil. “However, the order was disregarded and that cell was completely renovated, destroying all evidence or potential evidence.”

Mr Ó Snodaigh was speaking after the Government sought Dáil approval to launch a commission of investigation into the death of another prisoner in custody, Gary Douch.

Mr Douch, 21, from Darndale in Dublin, was beaten to death by a fellow inmate in a holding cell in Mountjoy Prison in August.

Following his death, Justice Minister Michael McDowell appointed a former senior civil servant, Michael Mellett, to inquire into the events.

Speaking yesterday, Mr McDowell said he had intended to publish Mr Mellett’s report, but had been told by the Attorney General that he could not.

“Nonetheless, it is my very strong view that we must now have a commission of inquiry into this particular death for a number of reasons,” Mr McDowell said.

“When all the facts emerge into public knowledge, it will be clearly seen that very serious mistakes were made in relation to the sequence of events that led to his death.”

Mr McDowell reiterated his apology to the family of Mr Douch. He did not respond to the allegations made by Mr Ó Snodaigh concerning the death of Terence Wheelock.

The inquest into Mr Wheelock’s death will resume on May 29. It was adjourned earlier this year to allow the State Pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy, time to examine photographs taken by the director of clinical photography at the Mater the day after Mr Wheelock was admitted to the hospital. The photographs are said to depict extensive bruising.

The DPP ruled last year that no prosecutions be taken in relation to his death.

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