ANOTHER chapter in the long-running saga which has followed the tragic death of John ‘Frog’ Ward was written on Monday, as the statutory inquest into the traveller’s death was heard in Castlebar Courthouse.
After a two-hour hearing, during which ten witnesses gave evidence, the jury of six agreed that the cause of death was shotgun wounds to the trunk of Mr Ward’s body, coupled with blunt force trauma to the head. Mr Ward died at his farm in Funshinagh, Cross on October 14, 2004. Local farmer, Padraig Nally was tried for Mr Ward’s manslaughter on two occasions, was sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty on the first, but this conviction was later quashed. He was acquitted at a retrial last December.
It does not appear as if this tragic book is closed, however, as the solicitor for the Ward family indicated that he has been instructed by the family to issue civil proceedings against Padraig Nally.
“Of course, the option is open to the Ward family and they will be issuing legal proceedings. However, I would estimate that it would probably be at least a year before the matter comes to court,” Mr Paudge Dorrian told The Mayo News after Monday’s inquest.
The jury at the inquest concurred with the direction of Coroner for South Mayo, Mr John O’Dwyer, that this was no normal inquest and the usual rulings of death by accident, misadventure or an open verdict could not be applied. Instead, Mr O’Dwyer said he felt a ‘narrative verdict’ was the most appropriate, where a straight description of the cause of death, consistent with the evidence and the medical reports, was given.
The evidence of the witnesses on Monday relived in a vivid way the shocking details of Mr Ward’s gruesome death.
Mr Tom Ward, who is serving a prison sentence in St Patrick’s Institution, was brought to the inquest by the Prison Services, to confirm the contents of his statement, which had already been aired during the trial and retrial of the case.
Mr Marty Ward a brother of the deceased from Creevykeel, Cliffoney, Co Sligo also attended at the inquest to confirm that it was he who identified the body of his brother in Mayo General Hospital on the day after the fatal shooting. A total of four gardaí, Garda Pauline Golden, Garda Peadar Brick, Sergeant James Carroll and Sergeant Eamon Breslin all gave evidence of their role in investigating the case.
Mr Nally’s next door neighbour, Mr Michael Varley was also called on to confirm his statement to the Gardaí, and his statement was the only one to be altered on Monday, with Mr O’Dwyer acceding to a request from Mr Dorrian that a section of the statement be deleted.
Garda Superintendent Padraig O’Toole confirmed details of alleged crimes in the Cross area prior to the shooting.
Padraig Nally himself and the State Pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy were the other two witnesses at the inquest, with Dr Cassidy’s evidence clarifying that the deceased had died from a shotgun wound to the trunk and blunt force trauma to the head. In the conclusion to her ten-page report, Dr Cassidy confirmed it was likely that the second shot which Mr Nally fired from ‘fairly close range’ had penetrated Mr Ward’s arm, continuing on and into the chest cavity to injure the left lung and damage the heart.
“This type of injury would cause rapid or immediate collapse, although he may have been capable of some movement for a short period of time,” said Dr Cassidy, who also revealed that Mr Ward had been hit several blows to the head (at least ten), with a long sturdy implement, which Mr Nally admitted in his statement was a piece of oak he used to mix his dog’s food with. There were also injuries to Mr Ward’s right forearm, lower left leg and neck.
After recording the ‘narrative verdict’, Mr O’Dwyer expressed his deepest sympathies to Tom Ward and all the Ward family, as did Mr Aiden Hope, the chairman of the jury, who also expressed his sympathies to Mr Nally.
Mr Sean Foy, solicitor for Mr Nally, once again expressed his sympathies to Marie Ward and the members of her family ‘who had been left without a father’. Mr Dorrian was the final one to speak, thanking Mr O’Dwyer for his conducting of the inquest, which he said ‘would go a long way to progressing or finalising matters’.