Met police apologises to family of tragic Patrick
Galway youth died after falling from Burger King roof in London
THE Metropolitan Police in London has apologised to the family of an 18-year-old Irish student who went missing and was later found dead for a “cruel twist” in the case which saw them being told that he had been found alive only for his body to be discovered a few hours later.
An inquest in London yesterday heard how Patrick Halpin, a first year DCU student, died after a fall from the rooftop of a building on Leicester Square last month, suffering concussion which resulted in a swelling on the brain.
The actuarial student from Loughrea in Co Galway had been on a trip with a drama group from his university when he was last seen in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, February 5. A major search alert across social media was launched later that day when he did not turn up for a musical he was due to attend.
At the inquest in Westminster Coroners’ Court yesterday, Det Sgt Paul Stephens told of how, in the early stages of the investigation, he had contacted the Border Agency - which is responsible for border control - to see if he had checked in on the flight he was due to take home. He was told that Patrick was with Gatwick Police, news which he relayed to the family, but which turned out not to be the case.
Det Sgt Stephens said it was a “cruel twist in this investigation” and it emerged that the student had checked in for both of his flights in and out of London but was not actually on board. His body was found a few hours later.
“I can only apologise for the system failure. It is a horrible thing to happen,” he told the court. Assistant coroner Angela Hodes, who described the death as a “tragic, tragic accident” said she would be writing to the various agencies involved in an attempt to prevent something similar occurring in the future.
“It appears that due to the particular procedure in relation to the airline, the information that was given to Detective Sergeant Paul Stephens was incorrect, leading to him erroneously informing the family that Mr Halpin had checked on to his flight,” she said.
"This court will be writing to the relevant agencies to see what they can do about their procedures."
The inquest heard that on the night of his disappearance, Patrick had been with friends in the Zoo Bar off Leicester Square when he asked to leave by security after he bumped into another person. While seen to be swaying and occasionally missing his footing, he was not said to have been very drunk, was co-operative and was told he would be able to get back in if he got something to eat.
CCTV footage shows him in the nearby Burger King on Leicester Square, going into a staff area through two doors which would normally be locked and up and down the stairs leading to the roof of the building.
When police searched the roof, they found his body on a lower roof. In order to get to the area where he was found he would have had to walk several metres to a barrier, slide down a slope and climb down waste pipes or a chimney.
Det Sgt Stephens said a broken galvanised chimney stack was found on the ground floor and suggested Patrick had been holding onto that when it broke, causing him to fall to the roof four metres below. He said there was the possibility the student was trying to make it back to the Zoo Bar via the roof.
Dr John David Van Der Walt, who carried out the post-mortem, said he believed that when Patrick fell and hit his head, he lost consciousness and the swelling on the brain - the cerebral edema - which caused his death had happened afterward. The amount of alcohol in his blood was found to be half the legal driving limit.
In court were a large number of the extended Halpin family who provided support to his parents Paddy and Elsie and sister Regina. The young man was described as someone who played volleyball for his country, had a brown belt in karate and who loved maths and solving problems.
The family thanked the police, the coroner, family and friends in a statement after the inquest.
“Patrick will be sadly missed but as Regina suggested to us all in her tribute to her brother ‘Live your life like Patrick did, with a smile and a song’,” the statement said.