Monday 22 December 2014

Soldier (32) fell to death from bathroom window at barracks, inquest hears

Gareth Naughton

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Private Patrick Conlon

A soldier tragically fell to his death from a bathroom window at McKee Barracks after returning from a night out, an inquest heard.

Gardaí believe that Private Patrick Conlon (32) from Coolaney, Co Sligo, may have been attempting to get into a first floor bedroom by climbing from one window to another when he fell 30 feet in the early hours of July 25 last year.  

Pte Conlon was based at Finner Camp in Donegal and Dublin Coroner’s Court heard he had travelled to McKee Barracks in Dublin 7 for a two-day fitness test. On the afternoon of the first day, he and his room-mates went into Dublin city centre where they had dinner and visited a number of pubs.

After midnight, Pte Conlon and his colleague Pte Owen McLoughlin went to a takeaway while Sergeant Ronan Caldwell, who had the key to the room, and another colleague finished a drink. By the time they were done, Pte Conlon and Pte McLoughlin had already made their way back to McKee Barracks.

Pte McLoughlin said when they arrived at the room at around 1am, they found the door locked. He went to see if he could find Sgt Caldwell but then returned on realising that Pte Conlon had the sergeant’s phone number. When he went back up, Pte Conlon was not there and his food was left by the toilet door. He called out Pte Conlon’s name and then noticed that the window of the toilet was wide open. When he looked out he could see Pte Conlon lying on the ground below. He went to him and found him unresponsive so ran to get help.

Pte Conlon was taken by ambulance to the Mater Hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

The postmortem found he died as a result of multiple traumatic injuries consistent with a fall from a height. The toxicology screen found a blood alcohol level of 254 micrograms per cent. Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said that this is a “very significantly high level of alcohol”.

Garda Redmond O’Leary said that there were no suspicious circumstances involved in the death. Hearsay evidence from other soldiers indicated that there may have been a practice of personnel using a two foot ledge to access rooms when they were locked out, he told the court. This ledge was on the first floor in another accommodation block in the complex and Pte Conlon may have been “under the impression” the ledge was also there on this particular block, he said. Military police told him they were aware the practice may have happened but nobody had been caught and it would be a “serious disciplinary matter” if they were, he added.

Speaking from the body of the court, the dead man’s father Christopher Conlon said that more keys should have been available for the room.

Returning a verdict of death by misadventure, Dr Farrell said that he would write to office of the Defence Forces chief of staff to raise the issue of the keys and the anecdotal evidence of soldiers using ledges to access windows.

Irish Independent

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