Pat Rossiter met his son on that Sunday afternoon and was suspicious about the 14-year-old missing the bus that was due to take him back to Wexford, where Brian had moved with his mother Siobhán little over a week before.
Brian hadn’t been too keen on the move, which was taking him away from his home town and his friends, so Pat had reason to be suspicious. But when he told Brian to go back to his sister, who lived in a flat near Clonmel’s town centre, it was the last conversation between the father and son.
Known as “Krusty”, and a stand-out character around the town with his bright red hair and his gaggle of friends, Brian Rossiter had come to the attention of the gardaí just once before when he was cautioned in relation to a minor matter.
Slightly built, he was no match for the then 22-year-old Noel Hannigan, whom he encountered hours after meeting his father close to the bus station. By then it was early on Monday. Brian had been out with his friend and the two were having a smoke outside Brian’s sister’s home.
Noel Hannigan came along and took offence to a perceived smart comment from Brian, who had just asked a question about his brother, and proceeded to head-butt the 14-year-old at least three times. Mr Hannigan denied to the inquest that he kneed or kicked Brian, but other witnesses said he did.
Brian met up with friends throughout Monday, by which time the bruising around his eyes had swollen dramatically. He also complained of headaches to a number of people during that Monday and Tuesday.
On the night of Tuesday, September 10, Brian and some friends went to a flat at Abbey Street in Clonmel, where he drank about half or less of a two-litre bottle of cider. He was reported by some of his friends to have had a few puffs from some cannabis joints that were being passed around, but all denied that he had taken any ecstasy tablets.
After leaving the flat with his friends, Anthony O’Sullivan and Daniel Leahy, events accelerated with the breaking of a shoe shop window. Gardaí were called and, after Daniel Leahy was arrested in an outdoor shopping mall, the other two who had shouted abuse and bad language, were arrested outside a pub, the Piper Inn, on Gladstone Street.
A sister of Noel Hannigan, Anne-Marie Hannigan, told the inquest that gardaí used force when arresting Brian and Anthony, and one of the gardaí had struck one of the boys — although she couldn’t remember which one — with a torch.
The gardaí involved in the arrests — Detective Garda Dan Quinlan, Garda Padraig Jennings and Garda Padraig Frawley — denied anyone was hit with a torch. The boys were abusive and loud in the station later that night, with Anthony O’Sullivan shouting to Brian in his cell: “They’re after killing me,” and Brian replying, “they’re after killing me too”.
By the next morning, September 11, Brian had fallen into a coma. The inquest heard of “panic” in the Garda station as successive officers, and also his friend, Anthony O’Sullivan, tried unsuccessfully to rouse him, with Sergeant (now Inspector) Paul Heffernan roaring for help as he cradled Brian’s head in his hand and wiped vomit from Brian’s mouth.
Two doctors and a nurse from a medical practice across the street were quickly on the scene, and while Brian was still alive and an ambulance brought him to the local general hospital, he had gravely deteriorated.
Pat Rossiter — who had declined on the Tuesday night to visit his son in the Garda station cell as he was angry about Brian being arrested — said that when he arrived at the hospital he was told by a detective that Brian had taken 15 or 16 ecstasy tablets. Toxicology tests later revealed no signs of drugs Brian’s system.
Within hours, Brian was rushed from St Joseph’s Hospital in Clonmel to Cork University Hospital, but an emergency operation failed to improve his condition. He remained on a life support machine until he died on September 13, during which time a mark on the side of his face became apparent and became the subject of controversy during subsequent inquiries.
State pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy carried out a postmortem and told the inquest that she couldn’t say when the injury to the side of the head, which caused the fatal extra-dural haematoma (blood clot near the brain), was inflicted.
Two British-based pathologists examined the files from Brian’s case and concluded that, while they couldn’t definitively say when the injury that proved fatal was inflicted on the boy, it was more likely to have been later than the assault perpetrated by Noel Hannigan in the early hours of September 9.
As yesterday’s open verdict confirms, a definitive answer for the Rossiter family is as far away as ever.
Brian Rossiter misses a bus from Clonmel to Wexford to stay with his mother, Siobhán. He stays in his sister Sharon’s home in Clonmel that night.
12.30am: Brian is on Queen Street outside Sharon’s house when he is assaulted by Noel Hannigan. Hannigan says assault lasts “seconds”. Brian is head-butted, punched and “kneed” in the head.
1pm: Brian sleeps in Sharon’s house and wakes at around 1pm. He refuses to see a doctor despite badly swollen eyes and complains of headaches.
5pm: Brian meets friends and goes out in the town.
7pm: Brian meets friends again and goes to a party in a flat on Abbey Street. He drinks cider and is reported to have smoked cannabis. He leaves with two friends after a row flares in the flat.
9.30pm: A shop window is broken in the town centre. One of Brian’s friends is stopped on the street. Brian and another teen shout abuse when gardaí arrive.
9.30pm-10pm: Brian hides under a car, but is caught by garda in a car park near the Piper Inn pub. He is brought to Clonmel Garda Station. Gardaí say nothing happened to Brian that might have injured him. He shouts abuse at gardaí and is placed in Cell
3.10pm: Two of his friends are in Cells 2 and 4. One, Anthony O’Sullivan, shouts from Cell 4: “They are after killing me.” He tells the inquest that Brian replies, “me too”.
11pm: Brian’s father, Pat, arrives at the Garda station. He says he is told Brian is out of control, he does not visit him in his cell and he lets him in the station overnight.
5.30am: Garda custody records state Brian is asleep in Cell 3.
5.45am: A garda testifies that shouting and roaring is heard from Cell 3.
6.05am: Garda custody record again states Brian is asleep.
9.30 am: Gardaí fail to rouse Brian. A doctor is called, CPR is performed and Brian is rushed to St Joseph’s Hospital, Clonmel.
10am-12 noon: Brian’s condition prompts doctors to arrange his transfer to Cork University Hospital (CUH).
12 noon-9pm: Brian is transferred and assessed and undergoes emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain.
Midnight: Brian is declared brain-stem-dead and gardaí begin investigating the circumstances surrounding his discovery unconscious in the Garda station cell.
5.40pm: Brian dies in CUH.
Inquest opened but adjourned on the application of the gardaí.
The inquest is re-opened following the conclusion of the Government-ordered Hugh Hartnett SC inquiry.
Jury returns an open verdict.