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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Gardai dealing with trauma or flashbacks 'need more therapy'

Det Sgt Fergus O’Brien was involved in the murder case of Anne Shorthall (pictured)
Det Sgt Fergus O’Brien was involved in the murder case of Anne Shorthall (pictured)

A senior detective who has investigated some of the country's most notorious and horrific crimes has called for mandatory counselling for all gardai who deal with traumatic incidents.

Psychological services are currently available for members when they attend serious incidents, such as road accidents.

However Detective Sergeant Fergus O'Brien, from Wicklow Garda Station, wants it to be made obligatory for gardai.

Horrific

"Going to the scene of a murder - somebody stabbed to death, somebody shot or some horrific scenes over the years - even for someone like myself who's a long time in the guards, carries that baggage, that trauma is inside you," Det Sgt O'Brien said.

"We would say it's imperative and it should be mandatory, it should not be optional that a person is referred for counselling and a psychologist."

Det Sgt O'Brien has been involved in a number of high-profile murder cases, including the killing of Tom Nevin, and more recently Anne Shortall. Roy Webster was convicted of her murder last month.

The garda also investigated the killing of Stephen O'Meara, who was shot before being ­buried alive in Co Wicklow.

Det Sgt O'Brien discovered Ms Shortall's remains in Webster's workshop in April 2015.

Recalling the experience, the senior detective said: "In that type of scenario, you know a person is dead, so you deal with it as best you can.

"The taping of the hands was a very dramatic thing to see in that you know that the end-of-life experience was very painful.

"It was an experience that stays with you for some time."

Despite his years of experience, Det Sgt O'Brien admitted that he, too, needed support.

He was speaking at the annual delegate conference for the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors in Killarney.

"Each scene that you go to is a different scene, so you can go to a shooting today, in a year's time you can go to a stabbing.

"The scenes are graphic, the descriptions of the scenes are graphic, and you have to deal with it."

He described going to a fatal traffic accident as a young garda: "It was a terrible scene where a young girl was dead, and a pool of blood around her. Obviously you're shocked, you can get flashbacks as well.

"An older guard there said 'Fergus, you've got to put that out of your mind, you've got to stand over, find out who that person is and you'll be going down to notify their family'.

Tough

"Even that sort of dynamic, going down to a deceased person's family - again horrendous scenes - and no words or training can prepare you for that."

Asked if he thought making it mandatory could prove counterproductive, with gardai resisting being forced to do something they didn't want to do, Det Sgt O'Brien disagreed.

"If you offer it, there is an element of 'macho man', they're tough guys and they don't show weakness. I say take the choice out of their hands," he said.

"You don't have to get into a big in-depth examination of a person's psyche, just to make sure the contact is made initially, so the person can go back to the services that are available."

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