No Data kept, on Deaths in Garda Custody? Very Disturbing?

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Sun, 15 May, 2022 – 21:00

Aoife Moore Political Correspondent

Concerns have been raised that the body set up to deal with complaints against Gardaí has not been compiling data on the number of deaths in garda custody. 

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) compiles a database of what are known as Section 102 referrals, which involve situations where the conduct of a member of the Gardaí may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person.

However, GSOC has not separated referrals for deaths from those of serious harm, meaning the number of people who have died in garda custody is not available.

Likewise, a parliamentary question submitted by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy to the Minister of Justice Helen McEntee asking for the data has not been answered due to the information not being available.

Dr Vicky Conway, Associate Professor at DCU School of Law and Government and a former member of the Policing Authority, who has attempted to compile the data on deaths in custody, is concerned this information is not available.

“Although there are reports on how many Section 102 referrals there were in a year, there is no further breakdown,” she said.

  • “As a state when we have any interaction between guards and any individual, often those people are inherently vulnerable, with high levels of addiction and mental health

They’re already vulnerable and once the state takes someone into custody it has obligations toward that person and part of that should be ensuring everything is recorded properly.” 

The latest Garda Inspectorate report on how custody and detention are managed was published in February.

From custody records, 25% of detainees had poor mental health or engaged in self-harm, and 48% had consumed or had a dependency on drugs, alcohol or both.

  • “We should be very concerned about any death in state custody. We should be worried about the state fulfilling its obligations to people,” Dr Conway added.

“We don’t know for instance, about how many people from ethnic minorities have died in custody, and I find it very disturbing that at a minimum there isn’t a desire to know, or an internal curiosity within Gardaí or the Department of Justice to know how many people died.” 

  • From media reports alone, Dr Conway has counted 62 deaths since 2000, including those in garda custody, shootings, pursuits and a number of deaths post custody, shortly after being released.

The GSOC equivalent in the UK conducts a review every ten years and publishes a report about deaths in police custody.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said: “Surely this is extremely basic information? What isn’t measured can’t be managed or acted upon.”

Orla Wheelock, whose brother Terence Wheelock died after time spent in Garda custody, says she is not shocked by the lack of information.

“As a family, we don’t have faith in GSOC, and hearing things like this, it makes it worse,” she said.

'I find it very disturbing': No data
            kept on deaths in garda custody 
Dr Vicky Conway, Associate Professor at DCU School of Law and Government, who has attempted to compile the data on deaths in custody, is concerned this information is not available.

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