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Friday 21 July 2017

'A beautiful, affectionate boy'

Teen who died in HSE care told aunt to bury him in beloved Liverpool tracksuit

Kevin Keane

LESS than a month before Christopher O'Driscoll died, consumed by pneumonia and clutching a pair of rosary beads in a filthy squat, he told his aunt he wanted to be buried in his Liverpool tracksuit.

"He wasn't well, he couldn't eat. He told me that when he died he wanted to be laid out in his Liverpool gear," Elizabeth Coffey said yesterday in the living room of her Cork home.

Last night, she called for wider powers to be given to social workers to prevent further deaths.

Meanwhile, his mother Miriam Hayes said yesterday: "Up to the time he died, it was six months since I had seen him and when I saw him in the coffin it was as if I wasn't looking at my son, he was so thin I didn't recognise him.

"I put Christopher into voluntary care when he was nine and a half because I couldn't manage him, he was playing out too much. From the way he died and the conditions in which he died, to me, it seems like he just gave up," his mother said.

An inquest earlier this week heard how Christopher had died at the age of 17 from severe pneumonia with drug use as a complicating factor, in May 2009, just one month after discharging himself from hospital against the wishes of doctors and his social care team.

He had been in the care of the HSE since the age of 10.

Ms Coffey said she remembered her nephew as an angel and a beautiful boy who was always smiling. "In every photograph I have of Christopher he was with the children, up in his arms, the children loved him and he loved children. He was very affectionate," his aunt said.

Ms Coffey said, however, that when Christopher took drugs he would change and admitted his addiction led to his departure from her home.

Christopher first came to the attention of the HSE at the age of 10 when he was showing signs of self-cutting. He was taken into care -- and was abusing drugs by the age of 12.

Christopher's aunt said he was very disturbed, "he had mental problems, he was in St Patrick's Institution and he tried to hang himself".

On another occasion Ms Coffey described how she "found him on top of (his sister) Celine's grave. He had cut himself in the B&B."

Ms Coffey said the death of Christopher's older sister from a prescription drug overdose in 2008 affected the then 16-year-old very badly.

She added that Celine became like a parent to Christopher when their mother first moved to Manchester, at a time when her son was still a child. Now both brother and sister are buried alongside one another in a graveyard on the outskirts of Cork city.

Awful

Days after the teenager was found in the ground floor of a squat in a wealthy neighbourhood of Cork city, his aunt approached the front gate but said she could not bring herself to go in.

At the inquest into Christopher's death earlier this week an ambulance crew admitted that before the teenager's remains were found in the squat, they had searched the house following a report that it contained a dead body. However, they failed to examine the building properly and never located Christopher, raising the awful spectre for his family that he lay dead for a further two days until he was finally found.

Sobbing as she spoke, Ms Coffey said she still blamed herself for her nephew's death.

"He always wore his rosary beads around his neck, that's what I can't make out -- why did he take them off his neck and die clutching them."

She believes Christopher's social workers should have been able to force the teenager to have the medical treatment he so badly needed. "When a child is that sick, a social worker should have a higher authority."

And Ms Coffey fears her nephew's tragic ending could happen to other children.

"I think there should be legislation from the Government for children who are sick and disturbed, so that when they go in to hospital, an order can he sought from a judge saying that the child must stay in hospital."

Comment: Page 20

Irish Independent

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