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Dying woman found covered in excrement and flies, court told

Emaciated victim was 'worst case' doctor had seen in over 25 years

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

Published 26/10/2011 | 05:00

Evelyn Joel (centre) with her daughter and Mr Costen at
a 2004 family gathering
Evelyn Joel (centre) with her daughter and Mr Costen at a 2004 family gathering
John Costen
Eleanor Joel

DOCTORS had to wear boilersuits and masks so they could treat a 59-year-old woman found lying on her bed covered in excrement and flies, days before she died in hospital, a court heard yesterday.

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Eleanor Joel (37) and her partner John Costen (39) have both pleaded not guilty at Wexford Circuit Court to unlawful killing by neglect and reckless endangerment of Eleanor Joel's mother, Evelyn Joel, between December 1, 2005, and January 7, 2006.

The pair lived at 37 Cluain Dara, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, with Mrs Joel.

A jury yesterday began hearing evidence in the case. Liam O'Neill from Wexford ambulance service arrived at the family's home at 7.10pm on January 7 after receiving a call.

He said he found it "hard to breathe" as there was a "very strong odour" when he reached halfway upstairs. He found Mrs Joel in bed but she was unresponsive when he spoke to her.

Mr O'Neill said Mrs Joel seemed "very sick" and her bedroom was "filthy". There were "nappies everywhere" and the room was "very stuffy".

He called a doctor as he wanted a witness because he didn't think anybody would believe how bad the situation was.

He described seeing "excrement and flies" on the bed.

Mr O'Neill said that when Dr Derek Forde arrived, "he went down to the lady's daughter and he gave out to her". He gave evidence of stuffing black plastic bags with nappies.

His colleague, Ray Sinnott, said Mrs Joel "looked very thin, emaciated and there was excrement in her nails".

Emergency medical technician Michael Dixon said he wore a biological hazard suit before attending the patient.

"I saw the patient, lying on the bed, the room was in disarray," he said, before adding that the "first thing that hit me was the smell".

He said she appeared skeletal and was "staring blankly".

Infection

He said her hands and body were dirty and there were soiled nappies, tissues and food on the bed. He attempted to clean the victim before wrapping her in blankets and removing her.

The court heard that before Mrs Joel arrived at Wexford General Hospital, there were concerns aired about bringing her into the A&E department because of infection control.

A&E nurse Mary Kelly attended the patient in the back of the ambulance.

She told the court that Mrs Joel suffered from MS and was "very frail and very emaciated" with "glazed eyes".

She examined Mrs Joel's body and noticed "larvae", which she described as being "like flies or maggots" on part of her body.

"The priority was to cleanse her," she said.

The hospital was informed ahead of Mrs Joel's arrival that her case was the worst that Dr Forde had seen in 25 years of practise.

Acting nurse manager Carmel Watchhorn gave evidence of helping to bathe Mrs Joel after she was isolated. She said there was "a lot of deterioration" in the woman's skin.

"Skin turns dark black and then eventually comes away," she said, after describing how Mrs Joel's inner thighs were "very dark".

Care assistant Paula Malone said she helped to wash Mrs Joel. When she cleaned the bath afterwards, she noticed lumps of faeces, white goo and a "horrendous smell" that reminded her of "flesh rotting".

Earlier yesterday, Mr Costen's mother Phyllis told the court that she had visited Mrs Joel in August 2005 and washed her hair. After she finished, Mrs Costen said she had tried to tidy the bed, but Mrs Joel wouldn't let her. She said the victim was "very stubborn".

They had a "chat and a cup of tea" before sharing a cigarette.

The trial, before Judge Gerard Griffin, continues today and is expected to last up to a month.

Irish Independent

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