Wednesday 11 December 2019

Boy (14) saw father being 'cut up' with meat cleaver, inquest told

Conor Kane

A 14-year-old boy saw his father being “cut up” with a meat-cleaver as they sat in their van waiting for his mother to come out of a shop, an inquest heard.

William Stokes (48) from the Rosanna Road Halting Site in Tipperary town was an innocent victim of an “unprovoked, violent and severe” attack when parked outside a supermarket on the evening of December 18, 2009 at Bridge Street in Tipperary.

The inquest into the father-of-four’s death heard nobody has ever been convicted for the assault committed on Mr Stokes. Gardaí said 29 people were arrested during the months that followed the incident and a substantial file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions but the DPP decided there was “insufficient evidence” for a conviction.

The investigation remains open, Detective Garda Martin Steed said.

After yesterday’s inquest, the deceased’s wife Helen Stokes did not wish to comment except to say: “It’s terrible that there was no justice done for him.”

She and other family members thanked the gardai for their efforts.

A deposition made by Detective Garda Michael Buckley said he arrived at the scene after 6pm and found William Stokes, who had been stabbed, sitting in the driver’s seat of his van. He spoke to Mr Stokes’s son, Michael, aged 14 at the time, who had also been in the van and told him how his father was “cut up” by an individual whom he didn’t know.

They were parked across the road from a supermarket, near the junction of Bridge Street and Main Street in Tipperary, waiting for Michael’s mother to return.

The boy told the detective that two men opened the door of the van and one held it open while the other “struck his father a number of times with a meat cleaver”.

State pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy said her post-mortem examination of Mr Stokes revealed eight separate cutting and chopping injuries - one of which resulted in a piece of bone being wedged from the victim’s forearm and another saw a piece of bone wedged from his right leg.

“This man had been the victim of a severe and violent assault with a sharp implement,” she said, adding there was evidence of “eight strikes with a sturdy implement”. One of these was to the chest, two to the right forearm, two to the right thigh and three to the lower leg.

The injuries, while severe and life-threatening, would not be expected to cause death immediately in someone healthy, she said. However, Mr Stokes suffered from severe heart disease and his heart was double the normal size.

Cause of death was “complex and multi-factorial,” she said, due to shock and haemorrhage caused by incise and chop injuries in an individual with hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease.

On the recommendation of the Coroner, Paul Morris, the jury returned a narrative verdict in accordance with the medical evidence. Mr Morris stated William Stokes had been “the victim of an unprovoked, violent and severe assault”. They could not return an “unlawful killing” verdict as the investigation was still open, Mr Morris said.

Inspector Paul O’Driscoll recalled an interview given by Superintendent John Courtney to the media at the time of the death in which the superintendent said the victim was “a very decent man” who was a positive influence on young people and “a big loss to the community”.

The Stokes family had helped the investigation at every opportunity, he said. “We’re very anxious to bring people to justice for this kind of carry-on.”

Chairman of the jury, Jimmy Keating, said he hoped “the perpetrator of this savage act is brought to justice”.

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