CHAPTER 1 Introduction
John Carthy was born on 9th October, 1972 and died on 20th April, 2000. He was a single man and at the time of his death was residing with his widowed mother, Mrs. Rose Carthy, in a dwelling house on the Toneymore road, a rural area outside the village of Abbeylara, near the town of Granard in Co. Longford. The house had been the Carthy family home for three generations from the time when built by the local authority in or about 1906. It had become seriously dilapidated and unfit for occupation as a dwelling. The local authority agreed to replace it by a new house on the site which in the latter part of April, 2000 was almost ready for occupation. As part of the new arrangement, the local authority required that the original dwelling be demolished when the new one was ready for use. On 19th/20th April demolition of the old house was imminent and this had major significance for the deceased.
From in or about 1991 John Carthy suffered from mental illness (bipolar depression) which had entailed several periods of in-patient psychiatric treatment over the years. He was liable to substantial manifestations of mental disturbance from time to time arising out of stress factors in his life. The imminent demolition of the old Carthy home was one such stress factor. Another, which was related to the latter, was the imminent tenth anniversary of his father’s death. He had died on Holy Thursday, 1990. Holy Thursday, 2000 was on 20th April which transpired to be the day when the subject was fatally shot. John Carthy had been close to his father and he associated the old home with him and with his grandfather. On or about 19th April he decided to defend possession of the original dwelling. He possessed a double-barrel licensed shotgun and a substantial quantity of ammunition. During the afternoon of that day he fired some shots from the house not at any particular target and required his mother to leave the dwelling and go to her sister’s house nearby. Mrs. Carthy and other members of the family who reside in the area were concerned about what John Carthy might do to himself and perhaps to others in view of his state of mental agitation which was more severe than it had ever been before. It was decided to report the matter to the police at Granard, the nearest garda station, and to seek their assistance. Local officers were sent to the scene and shots were fired in their direction by the subject. Chief Superintendent Tansey and Assistant Commissioner Hickey, who were the most senior officers in the area, decided at an early stage soon after the involvement of the gardaı´, that the assistance of the police Emergency Response Unit should be obtained. It is a specialist body with particular expertise in the area of armed sieges. The local scene commanders had no such prior experience. A detachment of the ERU took up duty at the scene on the evening of 1 9th April. It comprised a tactical group of four officers, who took over from local armed gardaı´ the role of providing an inner armed cordon around the Carthy house, and a negotiator with an untrained assistant. Three additional tactical officers were deployed to the scene and arrived there at lunchtime on 20th April. Shots were fired
by John Carthy occasionally. He was not disposed to negotiate with the garda negotiator or with certain friends who had been brought to the scene from time to time in the hope that they might be successful in having a dialogue with him.
At about 5:45 p.m. on 20th April the subject left his house armed with the shotgun without any prior notice or warning. He ignored armed ERU officers who were close to him when he commenced walking up the road towards Abbeylara. They had called on him to surrender his gun but he did not do so. A short distance from John Carthy on the Abbeylara side of the road a garda jeep was parked which was being used as a command post by the scene commander. Beyond the jeep was another garda car then containing four civilians, including Ms Marie Carthy, the subject’s sister, and his psychiatrist, Dr. David Shanley, who was waiting to be brought to the scene. There were several local armed officers and also uniformed officers on the road in the vicinity of the command jeep as the subject walked towards them. Some of them feared for their lives. At that point two armed ERU officers who were on the road close behind him fired at John Carthy as he walked away from them. He was struck first by two bullets in the left leg fired by Detective Sergeant Jackson, the negotiator, then by two bullets in the back fired by Detective Garda McCabe, the second of which was fatal and caused the death of the subject about one or two minutes later.
Having been informed of the shooting soon after it happened, the Commissioner of the Garda Sı´ocha´na (hereinafter referred to as ‘‘the Commissioner’’) responded by appointing Chief Superintendent Culligan to carry out an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the event and related matters. The latter assembled a team of investigators and embarked upon his task. He furnished a formal report to the Commissioner on 30th June, 2000.
The circumstances relating to the death of John Carthy caused substantial concern at local and national level. It was also considered by the Oireachtas where it was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for investigation. That body commenced a formal hearing into the death of Mr. Carthy. Early in the proceedings an application was made on behalf of certain involved garda officers to the High Court, and on appeal to the Supreme Court, for an Order directing the Oireachtas Committee to discontinue its investigation into the death of the subject. The application was successful and an Order was made providing that the Committee shall discontinue its proceedings.
Arising out of the foregoing judicial intervention, it was determined by the Houses of the Oireachtas on respectively 1 7th and 1 8th April, 2002 that a tribunal be established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 – 2002 to inquire into, inter alia, the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbeylara, Co. Longford on 20th April, 2000; to report to the Oireachtas and to make such findings and recommendations it sees fit in relation to these matters. Pursuant to the foregoing resolutions the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by Instrument given under his seal on 1st July, 2002 appointed me as Sole Member of the Tribunal. I duly took up office and proceeded with the tasks
assigned to me. I appointed a solicitor and a team of counsel to assemble evidence, interview witnesses and assist me in my work.
Preliminary investigations were substantially completed in December, 2002 and the first formal hearing of the Tribunal took place on 7th January, 2003. It comprised an Opening Statement by me which included an outline of how the Tribunal proposed to conduct its investigation; the procedures which it intended to adopt in the performance of its work, and the facts and issues which the Tribunal perceives arise out of the fatal shooting of John Carthy. It was specified that they would be dealt with in a series of modules, details of which were furnished. Applications for legal representation at the Tribunal were ruled on in course of the hearing. The Opening Statement is set out in Appendix 1. It was specifically stated that ‘‘the Tribunal is not a court of law but a Tribunal of Inquiry, the purpose of which in the instant case is to examine and, where possible in the light of the evidence, make findings on the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy... The Tribunal’s Inquiry is not a trial of alleged wrongdoing by any particular person or group of persons. It is an exercise designed to establish, if possible, what circumstances brought about or contributed by act or omission to the death of John Carthy on 20th April, 2000; why that tragedy happened and what might be learned from it.’’ It was stated that the operation of the Tribunal is inquisitorial in nature rather than adversarial.
The Tribunal sat in connection with evidential hearings and rulings for a total of 208 days and heard 169 witnesses, including certain garda witnesses who by arrangement were recalled after relevant expert testimony had been given. In addition, the statements of evidence of a number of witnesses were read into the record by general agreement. An excellent stenographic service was provided by Gwen Malone Stenography Services Ltd. It included provision of daily transcripts of evidence: 208 volumes in all were furnished. In addition, there were many volumes of medical records, expert medical and police reports and assorted other documentation which were introduced into the system and all of which appeared on screen in course of the hearings within seconds of being required. The Tribunal is grateful to Gwen Malone, the technical staff and Pearl Communications for providing an outstanding service of great skill. It is also appropriate that I should record my particular appreciation of the dedication and devotion of the team of lawyers who acted for the Tribunal and who were invaluable in achieving what I hope will be regarded as a good result, worthy of the huge effort which has been made to achieve it. I wish to include also the Tribunal registrar and the secretarial and management services provided for the Tribunal which also contributed much to the success of the project — not least their perennial good cheer and kindly thoughtfulness which I especially appreciate.
There is one other important matter which it is appropriate that I comment on at the outset of this report. As already indicated, in essence my primary function has been to review the response of the Garda Sı´ocha´na to the grievous crisis situation presented by John Carthy at his home in Abbeylara on 1 9th and 20th April, 2000 and which ultimately lead to his fatal shooting by a garda officer. As made clear by me in course of observations at a hearing on 29th October, 2003, ‘‘I have approached my task in this Tribunal, in investigating the death of John Carthy, from the premise
that the crisis presented by [him] at his home in Abbe ylara was unique in Irish police experience; was potentially extremely difficult to contend with and was a very far cry from the crisis situations for which the ERU and the Garda Sı´ocha´na are trained to contend.
I fully appreciate the gravity and unique difficulty of the problem which faced the scene commanders and the ERU, who were the officers primarily concerned in contending with it.
Secondly, the pivotal police witnesses at this Tribunal have been Detective Sergeant Jackson, as he then was, the negotiator, and Detective Sergeant Russell, the strategic tactician, both of the ERU. [They] have given evidence at great length and have been subjected to in-depth examinations by counsel and by me. Two points emerge beyond doubt in my mind arising out of that evidence. Both of these officers, I am absolutely satisfied, did their best to bring the situation at Abbe ylara to a peaceful end without loss of life or injury and worked with ... great devotion in attempting so to do. . . . Both emerge as honourable, courageous police officers who have endeavoured to give a fair, balanced account of what they did at Abbe ylara, which is, ifI may say so, an object lesson for others to follow.. .’’.
I have carefully assessed the evidence of Detective Sergeants Jackson and Russell and other officers. Criticisms contained in this report are not intended to detract from my foregoing observations on the unique difficulty presented by the late John Carthy at Abbeylara and on the dedication of the latter officers in the performance of their work.
As will be observed from the Contents, the report comprises 16 chapters. These include findings of relevant fact relating to the life of John Carthy and to the events at Abbeylara which culminated in his death on 20th April, 2000 and also what happened afterwards. Facts relating to siege management and negotiations at the scene are reviewed, including the performance of the scene commanders; their senior officers, the negotiator and the ERU tactical commander. There follows a chapter setting out my conclusions regarding the shooting of John Carthy, performance of the Garda Sı´ocha´na at Abbeylara and related matters.
The remainder of the report comprises chapters which include a review of firearms legislation; the use of less lethal weapons; police practice in other jurisdictions; Garda training, rank and structure together with recommendations relating to such matters. There is also a chapter on problems relating to the media.