Justice for Terence Wheelock


Just over a year ago, on the 2nd of June 2005 Terence Wheelock was arrested on suspicion of car theft and brought to Dublin’s Store Street Garda station. Just two hours after his arrest he was found unconscious in his cell. He entered a coma and passed away in September 2005.

The Garda Press Office made a statement, claiming that Terence had tied a ligature around his neck, and secured this to a “fixture” which was “counter sunk into the wall”. However the idea that Terence had hung himself is one which has been contested by his family and which looks increasingly dubious given subsequent revelations.

As per normal procedure Terence should have been checked in his ‘suicide proof’ cell on a regular basis. According to the station records ten minutes before he was found unconscious his cell was inspected and it was noted that he was asleep. The gardai claim that in the next ten minutes he woke up, broke away the concrete around a light switch which was about two and a half feet off the ground with his bare hands and then hung himself. The ambulance was called about 9 minutes after Terence was supposedly found in his cell. There is no explanation over what caused this delay. Likewise no one has explained why when the ambulance arrived Terence was found in a hall close to the main desk of the station and not in his cell.

Gardai called to the Wheelock house, informed Terence’s mother Esther that her son had hung himself and was in the southside St. James’ Hospital. These gardai then drove her to St. James’. They claimed not to know the direction to get there and Esther actually had to direct them. Terence had actually been brought to the much closer Mater Hospital. By the time his family had found this out and arrivedin the Mater his clothing had been taken away by Gardai.

The Garda press statement mentioned that there was no evidence of any bruising on Terence’s body which is completely contradicted by his family who saw him in the hospital, and by hospital photographs.

Any attempts the family have made to find out what happened have been frustrated by the gardai and the state. In an effort to find out what had happened in the cell the Wheelocks family solicitor obtained a court order to preserve the it for technical examination. Despite this order the cell was completely renovated, was ‘surgically cleaned’ and the light switch from which Terence supposedly hung himself was removed.

When the family managed to get hold of the custody records the names of the arresting gardai had been removed. The Wheelock family have made many attempts to recover Terence’s clothes for independent forensic examination. These attempts have been continually rebuffed by the Dept of Justice.

The family’s calls for an independent investigation have been refused and instead of this the garda commisioner has appointed Detective Superintendent Oliver Hanley from Dun Laoghaire Garda Station to look into the events around Terence’s death. Hanley served in Store Street station for over fifteen years and as the family have pointed out this makes him far from independent.

The Wheelock family have also been subject to intimidation and even attacks from the gardai because of their campaign for an investigation. On the third of June this year, just over a year since Terence was arrested, his brother was distributing leaflets. He was approached by a guard who tore up the leaflets and then tried to arrest him. When members of the family questioned the reasons for his arrest they were attacked by other gardai. In minutes over 30 gardai were on the scene, some of whom ran into the Wheelcok house assaulting Terence’s mother, his six months pregnant sister and terrifyong a two year old girl.In the days since this brutal attack the gardai have stationed people outside the Wheelock home in a blatent attempt at intimidation.

The Wheelocks are fighting for an independent inquiry into the circumstances around Terence’s death. In the circumatances it is quite a modest demand. However the case is important not just to the Wheelocks, but to everyone living in this country today. Its simply unacceptable that a man can die in police custody without anyone having to explain what happened. If it happened to Terence it can happen to any of us.

Jack White


This article is from
Workers Solidarity 92, published June/July 2006

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