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Tributes paid to revered state pathologist Dr John Harbison


Prof John Harbison was a
familiar face at crime scenes

Prof John Harbison was a familiar face at crime scenes

Prof John Harbison was a familiar face at crime scenes

"The state pathologist, Dr John Harbison has arrived at the scene!"

These were the words throughout the '80s and '90s that gave the clue a sudden death in Ireland was soon likely to be confirmed as murder.

And images of the sombre figure of Harbison arriving at a scene did little to quell the stomach-churning realisation that something horrible had occurred in a country where such events were thankfully still considered a rarity.

News of the passing of the former state pathologist Professor John Harbison yesterday led to an inevitable round of tributes to the man who served the State with distinction for a period approaching three decades.

But it was the humour he retained despite the macabre nature of his profession that singled him out in the consciousness of those who knew him well.

One wry memory shared came from one of the many conferences he gave.

"I remember hearing him speak at conferences he was fascinating," said a former attendee. Always hugely entertaining he said he had "a great slab side manner."

And it was his talents at the slab that brought the Howth native to the fore as the State's first forensic anthropologist.


Among the high-profile cases on which his services were utilised were the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation and the Kerry Babies case.

But perhaps the bloodiest and most gruesome case with which his name became synonymous was the Grangegorman killings.

It was the morning March 7, 1997 when Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callinan were found dead in No.1 Orchard View, Grangegorman, Dublin 7., The two women had been repeatedly stabbed; their throats and faces had been cut.

Speaking yesterday former detective Alan Bailey, who worked on the Grangegorman case, described Prof Harbison as "a pure gentleman and a true professional.

"To have retained that sense of humour in the face of the horrors he faced was a testament to his character in its own right."

Born in the Howth area of north Co Dublin, Prof Harbison is survived by his wife Kathleen, children Isobel and Austin, grandchildren Jack and Edith, brother Peter, son-in-law Conor, and extended family.

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