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Former police boss McQuillan 'washed hands 30 times a day' while suffering PTSD after watching colleague die in bloody crash

By Claire Williamson

Published 22/08/2016

Alan McQuillan, a former Assistant Chief Constable
Alan McQuillan, a former Assistant Chief Constable

Former assistant chief constable Alan McQuillan has revealed how he washed his hands 30 times a day while suffering PTSD after a colleague died in front of him following a bloody road crash.

The revelation came during an exchange on the BBC Stephen Nolan show where he was defending online comments made by PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton at the weekend.

Mr Hamilton was forced to apologise after he told an officer on Twitter to "stop wallowing in self pity" as they articulated to him the increasing pressures of the job.

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His response was branded a "stunning misjudgement" by the Police Federation for Northern Ireland - the body that represents rank-and-file officers - as they demanded an apology.

The police chief issued an apology on Sunday afternoon.

 

Former officers and serving officers contacted the radio show on Monday morning telling of their experience of PTSD.

The former assistant chief constable revealed for the first time his traumatic experience.

He said: "I had it (ptsd) in the past. But because I had been trained in it and I knew what it was it didn't affect me that badly.

"I had been involved in an accident and there had been a lot of blood.

"One of my officers was killed. For the next number of days I found myself washing my hands 20 or 30 times a day, because my hands had been covered in blood.

"I still get flashbacks from that incident and others I dealt with over 40 or 50 years ago.

"The issue was this, I knew what it was, I knew it wasn't a mental health problem. The problem is when people do bottle it up."

Describing his symptoms Mr McQuillan described how he was washing his hands every ten  minutes.

He said: "It was mentally and psychologically. I had dealt with the scene there had been a lot of blood and for the next couple of weeks I found myself doing it.

"It was something I was doing subconsciously, I caught myself on, thinking I've washed my hands 15 times this morning, and I knew immediately what it was.

"I knew it wasn't anything to be frightened of and I knew it was a perfectly normal reaction.

"I dealt with it myself because I had been almost inoculated because of the training I had and the knowledge I had."

Mr McQuillan said he felt the organisation had worked hard to try and encourage officers to "engage".

"I have seen police officers dealing with things like road traffic accidents and they have fought to save the life of somebody and it hasn't worked.

"Two to three years later it's still with them that they haven't managed to save that person.

"Even dealing with child abuse cases. It can all impact on police officers. They are all part of the life of a police officer and the organisation has a duty to support them in that, but it can't take all the risks away.

"I think the key issue is do the PSNI support them - in my view they do."

Mr McQuillan said the problem comes down to what is "fundamental" in the police job and that "80-90% of the job is dealing with issues that are not related to crime".

He said: "It''s the member of the public who picks up the phone and makes the call which determines what service they need from the police.

"80 - 90% are the social service type calls. If police don't do it, frankly there isn't anybody who will.

"I've had PTSD in the past and I've the greatest sympathy for any officer who suffers that or suffers an injury on the job.

"The reality is in any profession you go into, whether it's the casualty department or a social worker -there are stresses and strains and you need to be mentally capable of doing the job you are doing."

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