The jury at an inquest into the death of a Buncrana man who died while in the custody of Buncrana Gardai has recommended that all Garda stations and vehicles be equipped with defibrillators.
The inquest into the death of Michael Lynch, 32 Sliabh Sneacht, Buncrana in the early hours of 11th November, 2013 was heard yesterday in the Public Services Centre, Carndonagh in front of Coroner John Madden and Mr Richard Gomm of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC.)
The seven-person jury found the 61-year-old died in accordance with the medical evidence of Coroner Dr Michael Curtis who, after post mortem, determined Mr Lynch’s cause of death to be cardiomyopathy, with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and morbid obesity contributing factors.
The inquest was told Mr Lynch died after being arrested outside his home by Garda Tom Duggan and Garda Grainne McLoone for his ‘own safety’ and placed in the Garda van. Mr Lynch had been found lying face down in the garden of his home and could not stand up. He had earlier been socialising in Buncrana town and witnesses told the inquest when they saw him he wasn’t extremely intoxicated.
Dr Madden queried the change in Mr Lynch’s behaviour from not ‘falling down drunk’ earlier in the night to being ‘face down in the mud’ to which Dr Curtis replied that Mr Lynch’s becoming unwell may have been the start of the “final sequence.” He added the “likely reason” he took unwell was in relation to the beginning of his heart problem that led to his death.
The inquest heard that when the Gardai arrived at the station, Mr Lynch appeared to be sleeping but they noticed a change in his breathing and called an ambulance. While still in the Garda van he stopped breathing and Garda Duggan, Detective Garda Killian Callaghan, Garda Forrestral and Garda McLoone administered CPR. They also contacted Buncrana Fire Service, who were in possession of a defibrillator and they attended along with two ambulances. However, after approximately one hour of resuscitation, Mr Lynch was pronounced dead in the ambulance at the scene. As is procedure when a person has died in custody the GSOC was automatically notified.
Mr Curtis told the inquest that the Gardai “could not have done any more” than they did to save Mr Lynch’s life and “did everything humanly possible to get him revived.” He added that due to Mr Lynch’s enlarged heart he could have died at any time.
A number of witnesses gave evidence to the jury outlining the chain of events on the night Mr Michael Lynch died.
It heard that in the hours before his death, Mr Lynch, who had been on the medication Warfarin and oxygen for his COPD, had been socialising in Buncrana and had consumed four or five drinks in Phil Hegarty’s pub. Publican Patsy Gillespsie said Mr Lynch was in “good form” and “slightly drunk.” His blood alcohol level suggested ‘moderate intoxication.’
Mr Lynch then got a taxi to the home he shared with his partner Eileen Grant and his taxi driver Liam McCallion saw him walk towards the house door. Before he did so, Mr Lynch paid the taxi driver and gave him money to buy him a fish from the outlet ‘Chicken Corner.’ Mr McCallion said he did not think Mr Lynch was “very drunk.”
When the driver returned around five minutes later, Mr Lynch was lying in the garden and could not get up. Mr McCallion tried to lift Mr Lynch, who was 20 stone, and could not get an answer when he knocked for “around five minutes” on the door of his home. He left to summon help and returned with Mr Matthew Cutliffe but neither of the men could lift Mr Lynch who “seemed to have no power in his legs.” Gardai received a report from a female regarding a man lying in the estate who was intoxicated and went to the scene, arresting Mr Lynch after determining he could not be safely left alone. Gda McLoone said she asked him questions but could not comprehend his answers due to his intoxicated state.
Coronor Madden said it was “likely” Mr Lynch had died of natural causes and said the fact he had died in Garda custody was “through no fault of theirs.” He added there was “no hint of suspicion” in the Gardai’s case.
In determining the cause of death in line with the medical evidence, the jury foreman added a footnote that all Garda services, including stations and vehicles should be equipped with defibrillators and in particular, that Buncrana Garda Station should be equipped with one. Buncrana Garda Inspector David Murphy, Coronor Madden, the jury and Mr Gomm on behalf of GSOC all extended their sympathies to Mr Lynch’s family.