The bodies of nine-year-old twins Thomas and Paddy O’Driscoll were spirited away from their house in Charleville, Co Cork, yesterday. Their bodies, and that of their brother Jonathan (21) – who is believed to have killed them before taking his own life – underwent postmortems yesterday. They will likely establish the causes of death, with the pathologist’s findings becoming the main facts informing the coroner’s inquest.
That hearing will go no further than the inquest, simply confirming the causes, or method, of the deaths. It will not attempt to find out what led to the tragedy – an area outside the remit of the inquest process.
Because Jonathan O’Driscoll took his own life, the issue of a criminal investigation by the Garda into his death does not arise and, because he is the only suspect for the deaths of his brothers, their deaths will not be investigated either.
The only role the Garda has is in gathering facts to inform the inquest, a research function rather than an investigative one.
In the Republic, nowhere across the State’s justice or health agencies does anyone substantively investigate murder-suicides. Indeed, they are not even recorded by Government agencies.
Even in the official crime figures compiled by the Central Statistics Office, the murder of the twins will be indistinguishable from any other murders, lumped in with the gangland hits, fatal stabbings and other killings. When Jonathan’s suicide is recorded by the National Office of suicide prevention, it will be a standalone case of a young man taking his own life.
Dr Harry Kennedy, professor of forensic psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, has underlined the importance of accurate data in understanding the issue of parents or siblings killing other family members. He argues that a study over 40 to 50 years would be needed to even ascertain if there were more cases now than before.
While cases of children being killed by older siblings are rare, they are not unknown. In July, Shane Skeffington (20) killed his nine-year-old brother Brandon before taking his own life, in Banada village near Tubercurry, Co Sligo.
Research published last year found that in the previous 12 years, 46 people died due to murder-suicide. In the cases studied, 37 per cent of perpetrators killed their children, the highest of any category of victim, 26 per cent killed their partner, 16 per cent a friend, 11 per cent their whole family, 5 per cent a former partner and 5 per cent a parent
The research was carried out by Ciara Byrne, a forensics student at IT Sligo. Her study of records from the State Pathologist’s Office found there were 19 incidents in that time and that more than half of the 27 “innocent victims” were children.
“I think it [murder-suicide] is something that has come to our attention as a regular phenomenon over the last decade or so,” Dr Michael Curtis, Deputy State Pathologist, said. “I’m sure it has happened sporadically before, but the frequency and regularity of what we’re seeing seems to be a phenomenon of recent years. We’re seeing it on a regular basis. That’s what this research has shown quite clearly.”