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Father rejects partygoers’ evidence

Father rejects partygoers’ evidence

Inquest evidence
Anton McNulty

An hour after David Higgins was first seen in the River Moy, gardaí from Ballina received an anonymous phone call from a female stating that David Higgins had said he was ‘going into the river’ as he was leaving a house party.
Superintendent Pat McHugh told the inquest that the phone call was received by Ballina gardaí at 7.43am and was recorded into the station log book. When the number was traced it was discovered that it belonged to Karen Langan from Ballina, who admitted attending the party and that her phone was used. However, she had no recollection of making the call.
In an emotional address to the inquest, Mr Higgins's father, John Higgins, said the culture of drunken house parties and cheap alcohol contributed to his son's death. He also rejected the evidence given by several partygoers about the events that took place on the night his son died.

30th birthday party
The house party that David Higgins had attended was in the home of Paddy Foley, who had been celebrating his 30th birthday that night. Mr Foley told the inquest that he remembered meeting David Higgins in Brennan’s Lane Bar earlier in the night, but could not recall if he invited him to the house party or if somebody else did.
Mr Foley said he went to his house at about 3.30am and that there was a ‘good crowd there’. He said a verbal argument broke out between two men at 5.30am, and that Mr Higgins had pulled another person back. David Higgins was asked to leave but had pleaded with Mr Foley to let him stay. Mr Foley said he had a cigarette outside with Mr Higgins who had ‘settled a bit’, and he had told him to go home.
When asked how much he had to drink, Mr Foley replied that he had drunk ‘a good lot’. He said that Mr Higgins did nothing wrong, but that he had asked him to leave because he did not want another row to break out. He said the party continued and remembered hearing a few hours later that Mr Higgins was in the river.
Another witness, Cathal Mattimoe, explained that Mr Higgins had ‘pulled him back’ during the row at the house party, but denied that he did anything to Mr Higgins, saying he had just told him the row was nothing to do with him. He said he went into the sitting room and fell asleep and did not know about anything that happened to Mr Higgins after that. He also said he had a ‘fair bit of drink taken’.
In her evidence, Ms Langan said she had met Mr Foley earlier in the night and agreed to go to the house party with a friend. She said she did not know many people were there, and did not know David Higgins. She said the party continued until the morning. When asked how much she had to drink, she replied ‘a lot’.

Too much uncertainty

John Higgins, David’s father, said there were a lot of ‘selective’ memories from the witnesses who were at the party, and he did not accept their evidence.
“I do not accept those various accounts that have been received to date as being either complete or accurate, and I am not convinced that they amount to what is legally referred to ‘as the whole truth’ … there is too much uncertainty involved,” he said.
The last person to speak to David Higgins was Fergal McGinty, who explained that he had been fishing on the Moy when Mr Higgins came towards him. He said he knew Mr Higgins and asked how he was, but said Mr Higgins did not answer him.
Mr McGinty told the inquest that Mr Higgins then took off his chain and said ‘give this to Keith’ – who was his cousin – and walked away. Mr McGinty said that he called after him but he did not answer, and that he then lost sight of him. He said he seemed drunk but did not think he would do what he did and thought he would go home.
Dr Fadel Bennani, consultant pathologist, said there was no signs of violence and the postmortem showed typical features of drowning. He said the level of alcohol in his blood showed he was intoxicated and that his ability to deal with a crisis would be impaired.
Coroner for north Mayo, Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald said the level of irresponsibility at the party, which was fuelled by alcohol, was damning and it was a sad reflection on society that is was allowed to happen.
She said that while she was not blaming anybody, she wondered if asking Mr Higgins to leave was the ‘trigger for what he did’ and that he would have been safe if he remained in the house. While nobody saw Mr Higgins jump off the bridge she was satisfied to record a verdict of drowning by suicide with alcohol a contributory factor.

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