Buncrana Inquest: Guard praised for ‘dignity shown’

Buncrana inquest.
Buncrana inquest.

A garda officer has been commended for the dignity with which he treated those who died in the Buncrana Pier tragedy.

Garda officer Seamus Callaghan described how a local priest prayed over the bodies of the dead at the pier on the night of March 20, 2016.

He was speaking on the second of two days of evidence during the Inquest into the deaths of Sean McGrotty, his two sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), his partner’s mother Ruth Daniels and her daughter, Jodie-Lee Tracey (14).

The five died when the vehicle they were in, an Audi Q7, slid off the slipway at Buncrana Pier and entered the waters of Lough Swilly Lough Swilly on the evening of Sunday, March 20, 2016.

Rioghnach-Ann McGrotty, the then four-months-old daughter of Sean McGrotty and his partner Louise James, was the sole survivor of the tragedy.

Mr Callaghan, who is attached to Buncrana Garda Station, said he was at the scene with a colleague within a minute of getting the call at 7.15pm.

He described how he came upon Stephanie Knox with the baby her partner Davitt Walsh had rescued moments before the vehicle sank in a silver car at the top of the slipway, with Davitt also in the vehicle.

He said the ambulance then arrived and took the baby to hospital, while RNLI members were trying to perform CPR on one of the bodies recovered at the pier.

“The pier was extremely slippery,” he said, adding that he could barely stand without falling into the water and had to go on his knees to help with the recovery of the person who was in the water.

“In a relatively short period of time four more persons were taken from water,” he said, adding that CPR was conducted on each of these but “unfortunately to no avail”.

After all five were pronounced dead at the scene, blankets were placed over each of them.

Mr Callaghan said: “Prayers were said over each of the bodies and they were blessed by the priest.”

After the vehicle was retrieved from the car, Mr Callaghan said a number of items were retrieved from the vehicle including information relating to the identity of some of the deceased, a “Calpol type medicine” with the baby’s name on it, empty milk bottles and plastic dinner pots.

“It was clear the baby had been very well care for,” he said.

He later said he had gone done by the vehicle after it was retrieved to get a bag sitting nearby.

“Information had come the baby was settling well in the hospital. I wanted to find out what sort of formula the baby was using.”

He elaborated that being a father with young children himself, he knew if the baby was used to one type it might not take to another.

Donegal Coroner, Dr. Denis McCauley, thanked the officer for his actions on the day and said it would be “of greaat comfort” to the families that Mr Callaghan had shown such respect and dignity to the victims.