Fresh inquest sought into 2002 staircase death

Jim Goonan died in his home in 2002. It was ruled to be an accident, but his brother Cyril believes he was killed
Fresh inquest sought into 2002 staircase death

Jim Goonan's death was ruled as an accident despite conflicting evidence on where and how he fell. Stock picture.

The brother of a 50-year-old Offaly man who was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in his home in 2002, is hoping a review of evidence in the case can secure a fresh inquest into his death.

Cyril Goonan from Shinrone in Offaly said a review of his brother Jim’s death in 2002 has raised further questions about how he died and how his death was investigated.

Jim Goonan was found dead, with a gash to his head, at the bottom of the stairs at his home at Hawthorn Drive, Crinkle, in Birr, Offaly on March 11, 2002.

His body was discovered by his wife, Phyllis, in the early hours of the morning after both had been drinking the previous evening.

The death was treated as a tragic accident despite conflicting evidence and statements on where and how he fell.

While an inquest in 2016 ruled that the 50-year-old died from haemorrhage and shock due to a laceration to his head, the deceased’s brother, Cyril, believes he was killed on the night in question.

A recent review of the case by a former police officer from Northern Ireland, Mr Goonan said, raised the prospect that his brother may have been assaulted prior to falling or being pushed down the stairs.

The retired crime scene investigator also questioned whether blood stains found in the upstairs bedroom and bathroom were analysed by a blood pattern expert as part of the original Garda investigation.

Like an abattoir

Mr Goonan said the house was “like an abattoir” because of the amount of blood found upstairs and downstairs.

The case is one of the more than 300 submitted to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) established by the Department of Justice in 2014 to examine allegations of police misconduct or failures to investigate.

In 2015, the department advised Mr Goonan that its legal counsel had a “concern” about a “failure” by gardaí to properly investigate his brother’s death.

While an inquiry into the death was ruled out, the then justice minister Frances Fitzgerald requested a report on the case from the Garda Commissioner.

Mr Goonan said neither the IRM review nor the response from the Garda Commissioner had been furnished to date.

“Three ministers of justice have refused to provide the IRM report into my brother’s death, which found that his death was not properly investigated,” Mr Goonan said.

I feel completely let down by the system. But I’m not giving up on finding out what happened. The investigation wasn’t properly carried out and the minister for justice is withholding the IRM report but I'll continue to push for access to the report.

“They have said legal privilege is preventing the release of the report but in my view denying access to the IRM report is obstructing the course of justice in relation to my brother’s death,” he added.

Now approaching his 70s, Mr Goonan vowed to continue fighting for the truth about how his older brother died.

Independent review

Belfast-based firm KRW Law, which is representing Mr Goonan, confirmed it is now seeking an independent review of forensic evidence in the case with a view to making a formal application to the Attorney General for a second inquest.

“Mr Goonan feels he has been let down on a number of occasions by various branches of the State. He has been left with little option but to consult independent experts to conduct this review of crucial blood pattern evidence. We intend to present the findings to the Attorney General in the near future to establish the urgent need for fresh inquest proceedings,” Owen Winters of KRW Law said.

The Department of Justice said it could not comment on individual cases and declined to comment on why IRM reports and recommendations were not made available to those who made submissions to the IRM.

A spokesperson for the department said a retired High Court judge oversaw the preparation of summaries and recommendations that were issued in notification letters to applicants following review.

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