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State Pathologist says Females have 'aptitude' for Forensics

State Pathologist says Females have 'aptitude' for Forensics

State forensic pathologist Marie Cassidy has said that she hopes to see more females enter the career path due to a natural pre-disposition for it.

Ms Cassidy, who fell into forensic pathology, said that she hopes to see more women entering the area and purposefully hires as many females as possible for designated training programmes.

"Over the years, there has been an influx of females, but still not as many as I should have. Females are very good at forensic pathology," she told Miriam O'Callaghan on RTE Radio One.

"They have the right temperament for it and we're inquisitive.

"Women ask a lot of questions and they get on very well with people.

"I think they have an aptitude for it and we're trying to, in Ireland, take as many women in and they're fabulous. We're hoping that in the future we'll have our own training programme and start training our own forensic pathologists here in Ireland, which would be marvellous."

Early in her career, Ms Cassidy explained that she was often mistook as the wife of a male pathologist, rather than carving out a successful career of her own.

"It was very male dominated," she said. "I remember when I came in 1985 and going into my first meeting and I was the only female forensic pathologist there [at a conference in her native Glasgow].

"I can remember the wives of the pathologists the first morning. There was a woman standing in the hotel with a clipboard and she was ticking off all the women as they came down as the wives of the doctors and professors. "She said to me, 'Whose wife are you?' I said 'Phil O'Brien'. She said, 'Well he's not on my list'. And I said, 'Well, he's not here.' "She asked what I was doing there and I said I was going to attend the meeting. She responded, 'Oh, you're not a lady then?' "'Obviously not," I responded. 'I'm one of the boys'."

Marie has worked on some of the most prolific cases in modern Irish history, but explained that she can "divorce" herself from the crime scene and approaches her work in the same as any other profession.

"You've got to divorce yourself from that," she added.

"That's what I do. I see dreadful things and then I move on to the next one. "It's something you can either cope with or you can't. And if you can't cope, then you shouldn't be there." When it comes to the end of the work day, Ms Cassidy returns home to her family and said she doesn't become invested in the next chapter of the case. "I can switch off completely," she said.

"It's not part of my role to determine who did it and why they did it. "I'm there as part of the team. My role is to determine the cause of death and try to assist in the circumstances surrounding that death, related purely to the body. So, I don't get involved in who did it and why; whether or not there's a successful prosecution. It has nothing to do with me.

"I just walk on to the next one. I just gather the information that can help in the prosecution, or in some cases, helps with the defence, depending on what I find. "In the back of my mind, there's always the family".

When I'm working, I'm focused on getting information for the the Gardai and the coroner, but also, you're thinking about how this affects the families. However, she insists on never lying to a family member about the circumstances surrounding a death, but finds it particularly difficult to work the families of children who have died.

"You always have to have that soft part of you that, at some point, you're going to have to meet these people and explain what happened to their nearest and dearest and try to explain it in a way they understand. You can't lie to them and say he didn't suffer when you've stood up in court saying it took him ten minutes to die. "You explain to people what had happened and try to explain it to them in a way that they go away with the information and they can build on that. Hopefully, some day then they can get on with their life; they can't get over the death. "You can't lie to people. If you tell it in a sensitive way, they can cope with the information.

"I think, only because of being a female and being a mother, when you're dealing with children - that is completely different to dealing with an adult case. When you're dealing with an adult case, you're dealing with people who have lived with a bit of life.

"When it happens to children, it's completely different. You can't explain that. You can't understand that at all. In particular, when my children were very young; I can remember vividly dealing with a case of a two-year-old who had been badly abused and their name was almost identical to my daughter's name. "I just thought, thank god it's not mine. That's what I say all the time because it's very easy for me because I go home to my children. I've got that support network at home. "You can't bring comfort. You just have to sit with them and try to be supportive."

Irish Independent 11/10/13

Caitlin McBride