Sunday 17 November 2019

'Drugs were freely flowing': Mystery of death of Conal (25) who fell off party boat

Drugs were 'freely flowing' at early morning boat party

Gareth Naughton

Mystery surrounds how a man fell off a party boat and tragically drowned during a dance party where drugs were ‘freely flowing’, an inquest has heard.

It is not known how Conal Gildea (25) from Carn, Ardara, in Donegal, ended up in the water in the early hours of Saturday, April 27, 2013, during the party on the ‘Laura Lucy’ moored at Britain Quay in Dublin’s Grand Canal Docks.

Dublin Coroner’s Court heard his body was found two days later submerged in the water on the outer side of the boat after a friend reported him missing.

Sergeant Jonathan Hayes told the inquest there are no suspicious circumstances in Mr Gildea’s death but gardaí “have not established how he physically got in the water”. There were 30 party-goers on the boat and a further three staff members manning it. “Nobody witnessed or heard anything unusual,” he said.

Mr Gildea, the youngest of seven children, was reported missing on the afternoon of Sunday, April 28.

He was last seen on the boat at around 5.30am the previous day by Orla Hester who told the inquest they had been in a group of friends who met up earlier in Ranelagh before going to The Kitchen nightclub in Temple Bar. They were drinking and she was dancing with Mr Gildea throughout the night. She said she did not see him put a pill in his mouth but she “knew by him” that he had taken something.

“He was dancing, couldn’t stop dancing. He appeared high,” she said.

The group left at 3am and made their way to the boat, paying €15 each to board. They crossed a rough, grassy area to get to the vessel and lighting was poor. The inquest heard the landowners had not given permission for anyone to cross their property to get to the boat, which was licenced to sell alcohol in Dublin Port.

Ms Hester said that while on the boat she saw Mr Gildea take ecstasy. She later saw him giving a pill to someone else on the boat.

“Drugs were freely flowing while on the boat. I saw people taking acid, and I also saw people smoking joints. Drugs were taken down the back of the boat where people were seated. There were no workers down the back, they were all up the front,” she said. 

She explained that when she last saw him at he was on his way to the bar to get her a drink. On the night Mr Gildea was in “great form”, she told the court.

Gardaí initially carried out a land search after he was reported missing but, when records indicated his phone last registered at 4.37am on Saturday near Brittain Quay, a water search was commenced and his body found shortly after. Sgt Hayes said there is no CCTV footage of the incident.

The autopsy was carried out by state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis who gave the cause of death as drowning. He found no evidence of assault. The toxicology screen confirmed the presence of ecstasy and some alcohol in Mr Gildea’s system at the time.

Gardaí investigated matters relating to the operation of the boat and a file was sent to the DPP who directed no prosecution. The boat has not operated in the Dublin area since Mr Gildea’s death, Sgt Hayes said.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said the boat and the quayside where risky areas to be in at night and the fact that alcohol and ecstasy were present in the blood was also a risk factor.  

He returned a verdict of death by misadventure.

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