€250,000 For Garda With Mental Health Disorder

The High Court has awarded €250,000 compensation to a Garda who was “immeasurably” traumatised as a result of finding the bodies of a young garda and soldier in Derrada Wood near Ballinamore in Co Leitrim in 1983 after a shoot-out with the kidnappers of supermarket boss Don Tidey.

Making the award yesterday, Mr Justice Éamon de Valera said he accepted the Derrada Wood incident and an earlier shooting incident at the Border in 1979 had caused Garda Desmond Sheridan’s post-traumatic stress disorder. Both incidents were “most frightening” and had quite understandably caused Garda Sheridan psychiatric problems, which continued to adversely affect him.

While Garda Sheridan was coming to terms with what had occurred, he would, as long as he remained in the force, continue to experience himself “quite literally on the firing line”, the judge added.

The claim for compensation was brought by Bruce Antoniotti SC, with Cormac Quinn, for Garda Sheridan (52), stationed at Monaghan Garda station.

In an affidavit, Garda Sheridan said he was among a large force of gardaí and soldiers searching Co Leitrim for Mr Tidey in December 1983. Mr Tidey was kidnapped by an IRA gang in November 1983 and was rescued after 23 days in captivity.

Some days before December 16th, 1983, Garda Sheridan said they had been told that Mr Tidey was in a bunker guarded by at least six armed men who were going to shoot their way out.

On December 16th, Garda Sheridan said he spoke with a “young, strong, fit-looking” Garda recruit, Garda Gary Sheehan, who was “full of life” and who asked whether Garda Sheridan knew his father, Det Garda Jim Sheehan. He said they gave out about the food supplied to them and the “useless raincoats”.

A commotion and shooting had started some time later and there were people shouting in the forest. He made a hole in a ditch to get through the undergrowth and found the body of Garda Sheehan, “lying to attention with his fist clenched”, Garda Sheridan said. A soldier had appeared and said “There’s another one over there”, and he had gone over and seen the body of Pte Paddy Kelly lying against a ditch. “I found this scene unbelievable, a dead young garda and a dead young soldier, both in uniform … I was numbed.”

Garda Sheridan said that, after experiencing flashbacks in 1995, he had gone to a graveyard in Carrickmacross and found the grave of Gary Sheehan, where he left some flowers and a card.

Garda Sheridan said his flashbacks to the Derrada Wood incident and to a separate incident near the Border in 1979 were triggered after he suffered panic attacks in response to fireworks going off when he was driving with his family at Halloween in 1995. After the fireworks went off, he had shouted to his family to take cover. His wife had told him it was just fireworks but it had started a series of flashbacks to the incidents in Ballinamore and another incident in Scotstown, Co Monaghan, on the night of May 30th, 1979, when he was among gardaí who were shot at when searching for armed men.

After suffering panic attacks in 1995, his wife had said to him his behaviour had been out of character for many years previously. He had attended a psychiatrist later that year and was diagnosed with unresolved post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although his family and friends had noticed changes in his personality and behaviour since the Ballinamore events, he had swept it under the carpet, partly because of the “macho culture” within the Garda, he said.