A young garda, who saw her close friend and colleague, Garda Robbie McCallion, mown down by a car thief in Letterkenny and was in hospital with him a fortnight later when he died, has been awarded €18,000 damages for post-traumatic stress injuries she suffered afterwards.
Donegal-town-based Garda Joanne Doherty (37), of Bundoran Road, Kinlough, Co Leitrim, told the High Court today that she would never forget the night she and Robbie were investigating a car theft when he had been run down by a driver attempting to escape the scene.
Garda Doherty, describing the scene 10 years after the July 2009 incident, said the would-be getaway car was airborne as it crashed over the patrol car she was ducking behind. Another colleague, Garda Shane Lavelle, told her Robbie had been hit and she started shouting for him in the dark.
“Then I saw what I thought was a black bag of rubbish in a garden and realised it was Garda McCallion lying against a fence,” she told her barrister Fiona Crawford. “I ran to him and he squeezed my hand as I soaked up his blood.”
Garda Doherty told Ms Crawford, who appeared with Letterkenny solicitors Gallagher and Brennan, that she went to Letterkenny Hospital in the ambulance with Robbie, holding his hands. She was in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, on April 7, 2009 when his life support machine was switched off and he died shortly afterwards.
“Garda McCallion and I were very close. We started together in February 2005 in Templemore and had been together on the same student garda placements in Letterkenny to which we later became attached. We worked together in the same unit and formed a firm lifelong friendship,” she said.
Garda Doherty said she had suffered panic attacks, nightmares and sleeplessness following the loss of her friend and had been treated by a psychiatrist and a psychologist. “I kept re-living the incident over and over in my head,” she said.
I felt guilty and blamed myself that Robbie was dead and I didn’t have a scratch on me.
Afterwards she had been transferred to Donegal town garda station and had gone back to live with her parents, travelling to and from work. She had great support from Robbie’s family and her own parents.
She said she had to re-live the incident while giving evidence in court and there had been a re-trial as the jury had failed to agree on a manslaughter charge.
“These events changed my life and I do not believe that I will ever truly come to terms with the enormity of what happened,” Garda Doherty told the garda compensation hearing.
In cross-examination by barrister Gareth Robinson for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, she said had been known as “a tomboy” when much younger and at the age of 26 had been living a happy and carefree life prior to Robbie’s death. All that had dramatically changed for her but she was doing her best to get on with life.
Awarding her €18,000 damages Mr Justice Michael Twomey said it had been a very sad case for the McCallion family and for Garda Doherty who had suffered severe post-traumatic stress symptoms for four months after the incident and to a lesser extent for up to two years afterwards. She had substantially, if not fully, recovered from her injuries.