|Grisly gangland murders, frenzied stabbings and the aftermath of suicides: it's all in a day's work for crime scene cleaner Brendan Reilly.
He has made an unusual business out of Ireland's rising violent crime rate as he is now considered the go-to-guy when tragedy strikes and a crime scene needs to be cleaned up urgently.
Reilly set up Forensic Cleaning Services Ireland with his business partner Micheal Holahan in 2011. With over 10 years' experience of working in the fire and flood damage restoration sector they decided to diversify after identifying a gap in the market for a specialist firm offering crime scene cleaning expertise.
The list of cleaning services that Reilly's firm offers reads like a script from an episode of The Sopranos: "Murder scenes, stabbings, shootings, blood clean-up and sanitisation of crime scenes."For those who can stomach it, it's a lucrative business, however.
Crime scene cleaners can charge anything from €600 to €1,000 per job and entry costs to the industry are low. No specific industry qualification or accreditation is required to set up as a crime scene cleaner in Ireland but most of the top firms operating here have completed a three-day course run by the UK's National Academy of Crime Scene Cleaners in Bristol. The course costs £750 (€950) and the academy also sells a £645 Rapid Response Kit which contains all the equipment that any would-be crime scene cleaner needs to set up in business - bio hazard suits, boots, gloves, masks, high-tech cleaning products and airtight disposal bags.
Reilly's firm offers a nationwide 24-7 emergency call-out service and most of his business comes from gardai, local authorities and insurance companies. Many of the country's biggest landlords have his number on speed-dial too.
Every day is different and every job is unique for O'Reilly: a living room in a suburban home, an upmarket hotel suite, an inner city flat or a fast-food restaurant. Wherever a violent crime occurs, he must be ready to respond at short notice. Reilly and his team can only start their work when the garda's forensics team has completed their inquiries and the scene has been released back to the property owners.
Crime scene clean-ups involve painstaking work to detect, disinfect and completely remove all traces of bio-hazardous materials, including blood, bodily fluids, tissue and bone matter, contaminated clothing and household goods, hypodermic needles, razor blades and other items that pose a risk of injury or infection. It is a job that demands compassion and sensitivity when working with crime survivors and family members affected by the tragic situation, said Reilly. "We strive to remove the heartache and pain of having to clean up these situations regardless of the condition of the body or the location." As Ireland's crime rate continues to soar, call-outs to murder scenes and violent stabbings are "now quite common" for Reilly and his team. "It's part of our business, it's only one part of what we do, but unfortunately it is a growing part of our business," he said.
But dealing with the bloody aftermath of violent crime on a daily basis must take a huge personal toll?" You have to disconnect yourself. You have a job to do and you need to do it, and for your own well-being you have to be professional about it and disconnect," said O'Reilly. But the 42-year-old Galway entrepreneur readily admits he has witnessed many unpleasant sights over the past three years. He still recalls the first call-out his company responded to - "a decomposition where someone had passed away and they had been there for a couple of months". "That first one was a really bad one - and it does stick with you - but you have to put it to the back of your mind and move on," he said.
A number of Ireland's largest contract cleaning firms have also realised that crime does pay with many setting up crime scene cleaning units to cater for the growing demand in recent years. They have invested in special equipment and have sent staff on crime scene cleaning training courses abroad. While it may form just a small part of their overall income, it is a vital service especially if the firm's roster of clients includes bars, nightclubs, hotels and fast-food restaurants. Dublin-headquartered Derry Court Cleaning Specialists, one of the country's largest contract cleaning firms with over 1,000 staff, has developed a "specialised call-out team available 24/7" that is "garda vetted" to deal with crime scene clean-ups as well as garda cell cleaning.
Cork-based Lehane Environmental, another big player in the industry, has also given its staff "extensive training in crime scene clean-up, trauma scene clean-up, and blood clean-up".But it's not just cleaning up after violent crimes that is big business nowadays. Local authorities and landlords often require the services of these specialist cleaners when vacant properties become health hazards. It is quite common for drug users, squatters or hoarders to take over a vacant property or for drug users to convert rental properties into grow houses or drug dens. Dealing with the aftermath of such an event demands specialist training. The clean-up of drug paraphernalia and syringes, which can be costly for local authorities, is becoming far more common, especially in public areas such as car parks, parks and alleyways. Discarded needles can represent a serious health risk as used needles can transmit diseases such as HIV and hepatitis and they must be cleaned up immediately.
Meanwhile, as demand soars for crime scene cleaning - and with few careers guidance teachers around the country recommending it as an attractive job option to students - O'Reilly and his team will continue to clean up.