There should really be a special word for it: that vicarious fragility you feel when hearing of a minor decision with catastrophically heavy consequences, as if a falling acorn had tipped a boulder. In the case of John O’Hegarty, the subject of the engrossing podcast I’m Not Here To Hurt You, the catalyst for disaster was a quick short cut the wrong way down a one-way Dublin street while working as a bicycle courier. It would ultimately lead him – an academic with a master’s degree in psychology – into heroin and crack cocaine addiction, followed by a stint as a bank robber and eight years in prison.
The trouble was, that reckless turn in 2002 led him to collide with a pedestrian, a 56-year-old auctioneer called Roger Handy – who then fell, hit his head and later died in hospital, leaving a devastated family. ‘I can still feel the impact,’ O’Hegarty says of the crash: in this story the literal frequently blurs into the metaphorical. Racked with guilt, he was soon in the eye of a media storm, his identity recast in headlines as ‘The Killer Courier’. It took its toll: ‘Not long after, I embarked upon quite a distinct course of self-destruction.’
O’Hegarty is frank, likeable and eloquent, with the almost weary clarity that comes from having survived his own worst judgments, and those which others cast upon him. Given these qualities, the potential danger for any podcast is that his viewpoint will easily dominate the narrative, while those of the people most affected by his actions go unheard. Alert to this, the host Kevin Doyle – an Irish Independent journalist – makes creditable efforts to widen and interrogate O’Hegarty’s account, which nonetheless emerges as broadly accurate.