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'Dealing with a loved one's death is difficult, but a murder poses special problems'

Joan Deane helps people deal with the trauma of losing someone through homicide.

IMG_2039-1 Joan Deane Source: AdVIC

A LOVED ONE’S death is a traumatic time. Losing them as the result of a homicide adds to the trauma and sense of loss.

People who’ve lost a relative through murder or manslaughter may not know where to turn during a very distressing time.

AdVIC, Advocates for Victims of Homicides, was set up with this in mind. It’s a registered charity run by families bereaved by homicide, for families bereaved by homicide.

Explaining why it was established, the charity notes: “Dealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult, but a homicide poses special problems…

“Many families reported that their trauma was exacerbated by the fact that they did not know their rights, or understand the system in which they found themselves. In setting up AdVIC, one of our objectives was to help families access relevant information.”

The organisation provides free therapy sessions with specially trained counsellors and gives people information about their legal rights, among other things. Over the years, AdVIC has also advocated for changes to Ireland’s criminal justice system.

Secretary Joan Deane co-founded the charity in 2005. Two years beforehand her son Russell was killed at the age of 28.

“You’re lucky if you’ve never heard of us,” Joan tells TheJournal.ie. She says the families who set up AdVIC “found, from our own experience and journey through the criminal justice system, that it lacked a bit of fairness and balance”.

“At the time it was set up, in 2005, the families of homicide victims had no voice at all in the system. We all felt that needed to be addressed, that was our main motivation,” Joan recalls.

“The victims are dead, there are no victims as such. As the families of someone who had been murdered, we felt we didn’t have a place or a say in what would happen. The State takes the trial and makes the prosecution, it’s between the State and the accused. You really were very aware of that.

Nobody was obliged to provide you with information. It was very difficult to access the information that you suddenly needed. You’re thrown into terrible turmoil and dealing with a situation so far outside your experience.

“We got together and thought, ‘This isn’t right, there needs to be more support for families’. We set about collecting all the information that a family would need and produced a booklet. Information is vital, it was all there but wasn’t available in one place.”

AdVIC has grown over the last decade and all the information it has compiled is now online.

Victims’ rights 

Joan says things have improved in the 12 years since AdVIC was founded, noting the extra rights families now have under an EU directive and the Victims of Crime Bill 2015. Among other things, the Bill legally obliges An Garda Síochana and the Director of Public Prosecutions to keep victims – or in homicide cases, their families – informed about their cases.

Joan acknowledges that much has been achieved in the area of victims’ rights in recent years, noting: “Guards in particular have made a great drive with regard to the needs of victims.

“Courts are another aspect, the law is the law and is a very blunt instrument and a very impersonal process. Something could happen in the trial that compounds the trauma.

“There is always work to be done. We will continue to advocate, particularly on the legal side of things,” she adds.

‘Horrendous’ inquest

After Russell was killed, Joan had to sit through an inquest into his death and three trials over an 18-month period.

“Sitting through an inquest is a horrendous thing. I can only speak personally, I wouldn’t want to speak for anyone else. In my own case, the inquest was one of the most traumatic things. Sitting there, listening to the minute details of what happened to your loved one.

“There ended up being three trials – the first one collapsed for various reasons and the results of the second one were inconclusive.

I thought the worst time was when my son died, I couldn’t have foreseen what we’d have to go through after that. You have to find the strength.

Joan says being involved with AdVIC has helped her deal with her grief, noting the importance of spending time with other people who have been through the same experience.

“I was very lucky, I had family and friends who were very supportive, but people have to move on with their lives. You carry it with you always, you have to find a way to keep going,” she says.

Homicide-specific counselling

AdVIC provides free counselling for people who have been bereaved through homicide. The charity developed a training programme for qualified counsellors to upskill so they would be equipped to support this category of people.

Joan believes there is a lack of training among counsellors in this regard.

“I went to a counsellor myself and she was excellent, but it was too much for her – she was upset by the information I was telling her. She had no experience helping someone bereaved by homicide.”

AdVIC has a panel of about seven counsellors in various locations around the country who it refers bereaved people to. The charity is planning to soon start a training programme for counsellors to help them support children bereaved through homicide.

AdVIC receives funding from Tusla and the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, but also relies on fundraising events and donations from the public.

Joan says providing free services “puts a lot of pressure on resources”, adding that costs vary from year to year.

“Counselling could be €50 to €65 per session and it’s difficult to know when it’s at an end. Some people need one session and some people need 20. We depend a lot on donations.”

Joan is semi-retired but was also involved with AdVIC while working full-time. The charity’s committee, 10 people from various locations across the country, meet in Dublin once a month, communicating via phone or email in the interim.

“Some of the committee are working full-time, if you’re committed to something you’ll always find time for it,” Joan says.

AdVIC’s biennial memorial service will take place in the Freemasons’ Hall on Molesworth Street in Dublin city on 23 September. For more information on the chairty’s work, click here.

Read: Calls for HSE to use old psychiatric institution in Kerry for social housing

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