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Coroner returns open verdict in Castlebar death

News

Family asked for independent postmortem

Edwin McGreal and Anton McNulty

A coroner has returned an open verdict in the death of a man found dead in a house in Castlebar.
Henry Byrne (30) of Main Street, Cong was found dead in a vacant house at Fortfield, Castlebar on October 8, 2014.
The official cause of death was reported by a pathologist at Mayo University Hospital as asphyxia, but Coroner John O’Dwyer said there was not enough evidence to record a verdict of suicide.
He said there was a ‘huge vacuum’ in information and also said he could not pinpoint the date of death, recording it as being on an undetermined date between September 26 and October 8, 2014.
 
Difficulties
Ruth Byrne, a sister of the deceased, told the court that her brother had drink and drugs problems but that his death came ‘as a complete and utter shock’, and he was in a good state of mind at the time.
She said he was planning to attend their sister’s wedding and he had undertaken not to drink at that. The wedding took place exactly a week after his funeral, in the same church.
Ms Byrne said the family wants an independent pathologist to examine the evidence, as they are unhappy with a number of aspects of the investigation, including the forensic examination of the scene where the body was found.
She also said that marks on her brother’s face reported by the post mortem had not been accounted for. Ms Byrne said that none of Henry’s family had seen the body, as they were advised against doing so by gardaí. Instead a garda formally identified the body.
She says she regrets this and wished one of the family had viewed Henry’s remains.
She added that while she ‘would hope it was his own decision’ to take his life, he had gone through a lot worse phases than the weeks leading up to his death.
The inquest heard that Henry Byrne was due to go to prison at the time, but Ms Byrne said this was not an issue for him, as her brother considered going to Castlerea prison ‘a holiday’.
The inquest heard that Mr Byrne had left no suicide note or other message to indicate he was about to take his own life.

Postmortem
Mr Byrne was reported missing by his sister, Ruth, on October 2 following a conversation with his girlfriend Sive Clerkin, who said she last saw or heard from him on September 26, 2014.
After Ms Clerkin recalled that Henry Byrne had mentioned a house beside a corner shop in Springfield to her before, it was investigated and, subsequently, gardaí found Mr Byrne’s body lying on the floor. There was no electricity in the house and, after Mr Byrne was pronounced dead at 10.52pm, the scene was preserved.
Dr Tomas Nemeth, the pathologist who performed the postmortem, explained that the medical cause of death was asphyxia due to hanging. He stated that in his opinion the date of death was between October 3 and October 5, 2014.
When questioned by James Charity, counsel for the Byrne family, Dr Nemeth conceded that he could not be 100 percent certain regarding the date of death.
Dr Nemeth also explained that samples of Mr Byrne’s blood or urine were not taken for toxicology because the body ‘had dried out’. He added neither the gardaí nor the coroner had requested a toxicology result. Ruth Byrne expressed her dissatisfaction that a toxicology report was not requested. She also criticised the fact that the Gardaí would not release pictures of the body and the scene for an independent examination.
When asked by Mr O’Dwyer if he had any suspicions of foul play, Dr Nemeth replied that he did not, adding that if he had such suspicions he would have immediately suspended the postmortem and requested the State Pathologist.
The inquest heard a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Investigation, sought by the Byrne family, is ongoing.
“All we ever sought was transparency in relation to the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and death of Henry, and it’s very disappointing and frustrating that An Garda Síochána have refused on several occasions to release photographs confidentially for the purpose of an independent pathologist’s report to deal with the issues we have surrounding the investigation,” Ms Byrne told The Mayo News last night.