Thursday 24 August 2017

'We saw on Facebook about a young girl being found dead... but we didn't know it was Joanne'

Tragic Joanne Bowman 'wasn't getting the right help', says distraught family

Joanne Bowman with her sister Denise
Joanne Bowman with her sister Denise

Claire McNeilly

The grieving sister of a woman who died of a suspected drug overdose has spoken of her anguish after learning about the death on Facebook.

Joanne Bowman, who was also known as Joanne Kirk, was found dead at a house in west Belfast on St Stephen's Day.

Her 26-year-old sister, Denise Bowman, said that Joanne, who had been suffering mental health problems and battling drug addiction for three years, was let down by the system.

The retail worker also revealed that she warned professionals at least six months ago that 21-year-old Joanne's life would be in danger if they didn't step in to help her.

Speaking ahead of Joanne's cremation on Tuesday, Denise told of the frantic hours spent in search of her young sister, before she discovered the dreadful truth.

"We saw a post on Facebook at 10.44am on December 26 about a young girl being found dead in Ballymurphy, but we didn't know that it was Joanne," she said.

Joanne Bowman as a baby with mum Christine
Joanne Bowman as a baby with mum Christine

"By the time the police came to my mum's house at 4pm with a description of someone we didn't think was Joanne, we were still driving about looking for her.

"I keep a spare key for her house and I went there but she wasn't in.

"Then I went to her friend's house and she wasn't there either.

"I went everywhere looking for her. Then I started phoning police stations."

She added: "It wasn't until 9.45pm that night that the police phoned us back to confirm that it was definitely Joanne."

When Denise went to the morgue to identify Joanne's body at 10.30am the following day, she said she was still clinging to the hope there had been a mistake.

"At the back of my mind I was still thinking that it wasn't going to be her, that they'd got it wrong," she said.

"I didn't believe it until I saw her with my own eyes.

"It was heartbreaking."

Denise said her mum Christine (53) is angry at the pointless death of Joanne, who leaves behind four sisters and five brothers.

Their father Joey died when they were young.

"My mum's distraught and hurt - we all are," she said.

"I watched her try to get help and no-one listened. Then I watched her suffer. I don't think the anger will ever go, because Joanne was let down a lot by professionals.

"After an incident during the summer, Joanne was on the floor begging to be admitted to hospital.

"She was crying. She got assessed three or four times, but they kept sending her away."

She added: "On Christmas Day, she obviously ended up in a bad place but we don't know what happened.

"We have to wait on the toxicology report. All we know is that Joanne died in her sleep."

Following her sister's death, Denise said she has been inundated with calls from others in similar circumstances.

"I know Joanne dabbled in drugs," Denise said.

"I don't know what kind of drugs, or how frequently, but I think she was self-medicating because she wasn't getting the right help.

"Since we lost Joanne, so many people have contacted me to say they're in the same boat - trying to get help and struggling.

"It's unbelievable. Someone should have a responsibility to look after young kids in Northern Ireland with mental health issues and drug issues, but they're not dealing with it properly and kids are self-medicating."

She added: "Joanne had mental health issues before she took drugs. My mum and I took Joanne as far as we could and then the system failed her."

Joanne will be cremated after a 10am service today at Roselawn Cemetery.

Meanwhile, the family of west Belfast teenager Gerard Hall, who died suddenly last week, have denied his death was drug-related, saying that he died of natural causes.

His funeral will take place at St Agnes's Church in west Belfast at 10am on Wednesday.

If you've been affected by this article, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org

Belfast Telegraph

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