The killing by Garda police of a depressed young man outside his County Longford home six years ago was unnecessary, the judge who carried out a two-year inquiry into the incident has said.
The shooting by Garda gunmen of 27-year-old John Carthy as he emerged from his home in Abbeylara following a siege six years ago was widely condemned by human rights groups.
However, Justice Robert Barr said he accepted the evidence given by the state that the officer who shot Mr Carthy, who was loosely carrying a shotgun, perceived that he had “no alternative” because of a potential threat to members of the ‘elite’ Garda Emergency Response Unit.
Mr Carthy, who suffered from manic depression, was shot four times by two different officers as he walked in the direction of Abbeylara village while holding a shotgun loaded with a single cartridge.
His death followed a 25-hour stand-off with gardai during which he was refused cigarettes and other items.
Speaking following the publication of his final report into the Abbeylara siege, Mr Justice Barr called for a radical restructuring of how gardai deal with siege situations involving people suffering from mental illness and recommended the use of non-lethal weapons such as Taser stun guns.
When asked by reporters if Mr Carthy’s death could have been avoided, Mr Barr replied ‘yes’.
Describing the killing as “a tragedy”, the judge criticised the number of officers stationed at the siege.
“The real difficulty was that the road was covered by officers, armed and unarmed, uniformed and plainclothes, a number of which should not have been there at all,” he said.
“In fact, none should have been there. The road should have been kept clear. There should never have been a possibility of a target being there which John Carthy might elect to fire at.
“If there was no target, there would have been no need to shoot him,” he continued. Mr Barr also said he believed major lessons needed to be learned from what happened at Abbeylara.
“John Carthy didn’t sacrifice his life for nothing.”
In his recommendations, Mr Barr called for a reorganisation of special Garda units such as the Emergency Response Unit and the Garda Technical Bureau. He also called for increased training for senior gardai.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said the report into the Abbeylara killing underlined the need for gardato to be given training in human rights considerations.
ICCL director Mark Kelly said: “The major lesson of the Barr Tribunal report is that all Garda policies, rules and regulations on the use of lethal force need to be human rights-proofed.”
Sinn Féin Justice and Human Rights spokesperson Aengus O Snodaigh TD said the long delay in the publication of the report highlighted the need for a fully independent complaints procedure under a single Garda Ombudsman.
Deputy O Snodaigh said the two governments that had been in power in Dublin since the killing six years ago had both failed to adequately deal with the “fundamental problems” of a lack of accountability within the Gardai and the need for “root and branch” Garda reform.
“It was abundantly clear to anyone who has followed this case that negligence on the part of the Gardai was the crucial factor in the death of John Carthy,” he said.
“Here we have a case where a mentally ill man was killed unnecessarily and it has taken two years to establish a tribunal and a further four years to receive its report and recommendations.”
The family of John Carthy have said they still require answers so they can move on with their lives.
Mr Carthy’s sister Marie Carthy said: “To this day my family believes that there was no just cause to fatally shoot John.”
“For over six years since the untimely death of John, we have sought answers to bring closure to this harrowing chapter of our lives. We need answers so that we can try and move on with our own lives. Perhaps, most importantly, we need answers so that this tragedy never happens to another family ever again.”