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Garda awarded €18,000 for post-traumatic stress after colleague’s death

A garda who saw her close friend and colleague knocked down by a car thief in Co Donegal and was in hospital with him a fortnight later when he died, has been awarded €18,000 damages for post-traumatic stress injuries.

Garda Joanne Doherty (37), of Bundoran Road, Kinlough, Co Leitrim, told the High Court that she would never forget the night Garda Robbie McCallion was struck by the car as the driver attempted to escape on March 26th, 2009.

Garda Doherty said she saw the stolen car become airborne as she ducked behind a patrol car. Another colleague, Garda Shane Lavelle, told her Garda McCallion had been hit and she started shouting for him in the dark.

“Then I saw what I thought was a black bag of rubbish in a garden and realised it was Garda McCallion lying against a fence,” she told her barrister Fiona Crawford. “I ran to him and he squeezed my hand as I soaked up his blood.”

Garda Doherty told Ms Crawford, who appeared with Letterkenny-based solicitors Gallagher and Brennan, that she went to Letterkenny Hospital in the ambulance with her colleague, holding his hands.

She was in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin on April 7th, 2009 when his life support machine was switched off.

‘Friendship’

“Garda McCallion and I were very close. We started together in February 2005 in Templemore and had been together on the same student garda placements in Letterkenny, to which we later became attached. We worked together in the same unit and formed a firm lifelong friendship,” she said.

Garda Doherty said she had suffered panic attacks, nightmares and sleeplessness following the loss of her friend and had been treated by a psychiatrist and a psychologist.

“I kept re-living the incident over and over in my head,” she said. “I felt guilty and blamed myself that Robbie was dead and I didn’t have a scratch on me.”

Afterwards she was transferred to Donegal town and went back to live with her parents, travelling to and from work.

Garda Doherty said she had to re-live the incident while giving evidence about her colleague’s death in court and there was a re-trial as the jury failed to agree on a manslaughter charge.

‘Enormity’

“These events changed my life and I do not believe that I will ever truly come to terms with the enormity of what happened,” she told the garda compensation hearing.

Under cross-examination by counsel for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Garda Doherty said she had been living a happy and carefree life prior to Garda McCallion’s death but that this changed afterwards. She was now doing her best to get on with life.

Awarding €18,000 damages, Mr Justice Michael Twomey said it had been a very sad case for the McCallion family and for Garda Doherty, who suffered severe post-traumatic stress symptoms for four months after the incident and to a lesser extent for up to two years afterwards. He said she had substantially, if not fully, recovered from her injuries.