In 2002, 14-year-old Brian Rossiter came home with a black eye and headaches after being attacked by a man in Clonmel. Two days later he was arrested on a public order charge. His father, Pat Rossiter, received a phone call from the gardai asking him to come to the station where they told him that Brian had overdosed on drugs and alcohol. When the police told him that his son had been on a drink and drugs binge for four or five days, Pat Rossiter consented to the child’s detention overnight because he felt a shock would teach him a lesson.
Pat Rossiter, unlike a Garda, is not a professional and therefore wouldn’t know that it is illegal to detain a child in this way.
The Gardai, who did know that it was illegal, imprisoned the child anyway.
The following morning Brian was taken to hospital having been found comatose in the cell. Pat Rossiter received a phone call from the gardai to say that his son had gone cold turkey and was in withdrawal. He went to the hospital and met detectives who suggested to him that Brian had taken a lot of ecstasy and had overdosed. The police also told doctors at the hospital that Brian had taken fifteen to seventeen ecstasy tablets, and later informed the State Pathologist that Brian had taken a large amount of drugs and alcohol. In reality, as subsequent tests showed, Brian Rossiter had no drugs or alcohol in his system. On the other hand, when admitted to hospital from police custody, the fourteen-year-old displayed symptoms consistent with having been punched or kicked in the groin.
A local man, Noel Hannigan, 25, was subsequently arrested and charged with assault causing harm for head-butting the child. When his case came to court, the police added an additional charge of manslaughter without consulting the Director of Public Prosecutions — a charge immediately withdrawn on the instructions of the DPP, who announced that it had been added without his approval.
The State Pathologist found on post mortem examination that Brian died of a slow haemorrhage, most likely caused by the assault, but was later contradicted by two British pathologists, who concluded that the child had died as a result of an injury inflicted while in police custody or immediately preceding his arrest, and not 36 hours earlier, when he was assaulted by Noel Hannigan.
Just over two years after his son was killed, while walking home with relatives, Pat Rossiter, was also arrested on public order charges — an increasingly common, and convenient, reason for arrest in Ireland. Interestingly, this arrest was made by the same policeman who had been in charge of the station the night young Brian died. Pat Rossiter was thrown into the same cell his son had died in, where he had to spend an entire tortured night. When his case came to court, the arresting guard told the court that he did not know who Mr Rossiter was when he arrested him, even though Mr Rossiter is a well-known taxi driver in the town. He also stated that he was unaware of the case Mr Rossiter had taken against an Garda SÃochÃ¡na. The Court threw out the case. Declaring that the charges were groundless, the Judge was highly critical of the Garda evidence against Mr Rossiter.
The Minister for Justice set up a statutory inquiry into the events surrounding the death of Brian Rossiter, but under a very restrictive and obscure piece of legislation that does not allow witnesses to be compelled, or provide protection against actions for defamation. Its terms of reference were severely limited, prompting this complaint from the Rossiters’ lawyer: the terms of reference for the Inquiry do not include an investigation of the cause of Brian Rossiter’s death. Neither is the inquiry tasked with forming an opinion on who killed Brian.
Here are the precise terms of reference:
That the arrest of Brian Rossiter of 11 Mount Prospect, Clonard, County Wexford in Clonmel on the 10th day of September 2002 was unlawful;
That the said Brian Rossiter was unlawfully assaulted during the course of his arrest and detention;
That the Criminal Justice Act 1984 (Treatment of Persons in Custody in Garda SÃƒochÃƒ¡na Stations) Regulations 1987 (S.I. No. 119/1987) were infringed in relation to the detention of the said Brian Rossiter
That the detention in Clonmel Garda Station of the said Brian Rossiter was unlawful;
That ambulance personnel, medical personnel and/or Dr. Marie Cassidy [State pathologist] were wrongfully given incorrect information concerning the consumption of alcohol and drugs by the said Brian Rossiter;
That all the circumstances of the death of the said Brian Rossiter were not fully investigated and all witnesses were not interviewed
Nothing there about who killed the child or how he was killed, you’ll notice.
Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings and limitations, the report is now complete and Pat Rossiter has received a copy.
I know what happened to my son, he says.
The family’s lawyer has written to the minister asking what will be done about “very serious findings against named gardai”.
The minister’s office has said that an abridged version of the report will be issued “within weeks” and I’ll have a lot more to say about that when it comes out.