Families of Kerry men who died after being in Garda custody demand better training

Sister of one of the deceased said that 'extremely vulnerable people need to be around people who have training'
Families of Kerry men who died after being in Garda custody demand better training

Shane Burke was found on the floor of a Garda van with a weak pulse and died, despite efforts to resuscitate him. His family does not know how long he was in the vehicle and whether he was alone. Picture Denis Minihane.

The families of two Kerry men who died within days of each other after spending time in Garda custody have demanded better training for members of the force and An Garda Síochána Ombudsman.

Shane Burke, 43, and John O’Driscoll, 46, both died last February. Mr Burke, from Tralee, was found unresponsive in the back of a Garda van. He had been arrested while drunk and transported to Limerick’s Henry Street Garda Station.

Mr Burke was found on the floor of the van with a weak pulse and died, despite efforts to resuscitate him. His family does not know how long Mr Burke was in the vehicle and whether he was alone.

His partner and family claim they were not allowed to formally identify his body.

While Gsoc become involved immediately, the family claims it only found out that he had died in Garda custody through the media.

Injuries

When they saw Mr Burke in the funeral home, his sister claimed he had a partial black eye and a swollen face and neck. It is understood the funeral home was forced to put a net curtain in front of his coffin due to the distress it would have caused.

His autopsy report shows he suffered bruising on both limbs; a haemorrhage on the scalp; rib fractures; bruising on his lip; and blood around his mouth, nose, and ears. It is not clear how he sustained these injuries. The cause of death was ruled to be acute alcohol and benzodiazepine intoxication.

The family was assigned a Gsoc family liaison officer but his sister, Jennifer Burke, claimed their questions were not adequately addressed.

They handed us a body and that was it, no answers

“When I questioned Gsoc about Shane’s death, my opinion was his human rights were violated, being kept in a van after a lot of alcohol," Ms Burke said.

“I’m not totally angry with gardaí but these are two worlds colliding. Extremely vulnerable people need to be around people who have training and at a minimum, if they have people interact with these people, they need better training.” 

Taken into custody

Also in February, Mr O’Driscoll, a gardener, was taken into Garda custody after a domestic row in Waterford.

He was kept overnight and when released he went to his mother’s home in Tralee. He had visible injuries and blood stains on his clothes. It is not clear when he sustained the injuries. He was found dead two days after he returned to Kerry.

John O'Driscoll was taken into Garda custody after a domestic row with his wife in Waterford. He died two days later. Picture Denis Minihane.
John O'Driscoll was taken into Garda custody after a domestic row with his wife in Waterford. He died two days later. Picture Denis Minihane.

Mr O'Driscoll's sister Helena Wall said the family has been left reeling without answers from the Garda Ombudsman.

"John leaves behind a daughter, who lost her mother to cancer when she was just seven, and now her father is dead when she’s 28,” Ms Wall said. 

We don’t have the results from the autopsy yet so we don’t even know the cause of John’s death

Ms Wall said the Garda Ombudsman told her there was no video footage from the Garda station on the night in question and no witnesses.

“The last thing I heard from Gsoc was that the investigation shouldn’t take much longer," she said.

A Garda spokesman said he could not comment as the cases were under investigation by Gsoc, while Gsoc said it could not comment as the probes were active.

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