Sunday 25 March 2018

Open verdict at inquest into death of Irish aid worker killed in Ethiopia

Stock picture
Stock picture

Greg Harkin

A CORONER has recorded an open verdict in the death of a “gifted” Irish aid worker killed in a road traffic incident in Ethiopia.

The mother of Joyce Campbell, (25),  from Dungloe, Co Donegal, criticised both the Catholic missionary group she was working with when she died 11 years ago and the Department of Foreign Affairs for "failing to properly investigate her death".

Ms Campbell died within two hours of the road crash in a rural area after “heroically” helping to rescue two other Irish workers get out of a 25-ft deep ravine on July 31, 2005, Coroner Dr Denis McCauley found at a hearing in Letterkenny.

The dead woman’s mother Irene has spent the past decade campaigning for an official investigation into the death of Joyce, who had a degree in international development and a masters in humanitarian assistance.

Ethiopian police have refused to co-operate with gardaí and Interpol investigations.

Mrs Campbell said she had been told by the Vicentian Lay Missionaires her daughter had died instantly in the crash. She also said the organisation had failed to secure a death certificate for Joyce having earlier promised they would do so.

An autopsy report conducted by pathologists in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa after her death recorded her demise on the day after on August 1, 2015.

However the two other Irish aid workers seriously injured in the same crash gave evidence to the inquest that they believed Joyce died within an hour or two of the crash.

Paul Brady, from Monasterevin, Co Kildare, told the inquest that he, Joyce and Alan Matthews had spent the weekend visiting Holy Ghost missionary priests and some tribes in the south of the country and were returning on the eight hour drive home to their base when the accident happened.

He said the driver was an Ethiopian and he had been sitting in the front passenger seat with Joyce and Alan in the back.

He said his seat belt wasn’t working and he didn’t believe there were seat belts in the back of the jeep.

Mr Brady said he remembered an impact as the vehicle swerved.

“I kept saying to Joyce and Alan that we would be all right, that God would take care of us,” said Mr Brady.

“I remember Joyce helping me, walking with me to a truck saying we would be ok. I was put into the back of the truck. About an hour into the journey, Joyce’s body was put into the back of a truck beside me. She was obviously dead.”

Alan Matthews, from Artane, Dublin,  said he didn’t remember the crash, and remembered soon afterwards standing looking down at the jeep.

Joyce, he said, had helped him out of the ravine.

He suffered shattered bones in his arm and Joyce had ended up sitting beside him in the truck going to Addis Ababa after the accident.

During the journey they stopped on a number of occasions to allow Joyce to go to the toilet.

However after an hour or two, he said, Joyce’s lips turned blue and he realised she had died.

Coroner Dr McCauley explained to the family that based on the autopsy report that Joyce’s liver had been ruptured in the crash and she was slowly dying from her internal injuries.

He said it was still unclear how the accident happened and he believed the autopsy was accurate except for the date being wrong.

Dr McCauley said that in the circumstances he had to record an open verdict.

He added a rider to that verdict calling on the Irish Government “to ensure that investigations into deaths by accident abroad, especially in Ethiopia, should be reviewed and improved”.

Joyce's mother, Irene, told the hearing at the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny that the lay missionaries and the Department of Foreign Affairs had failed to secure an investigation in Ethiopia.

"All we ever asked for was the truth of what happened to Joyce," she said.

"I want to thank the Gardaí for everything they have done and the coroner for holding an inquest here in Ireland.

"But it is hard enough to lose a daughter to then be let down by the Vicentian Lay Missionaries and official Ireland made it worse. I hope this never happens again to another family and I hope no-one has to go through the crucifixion we have had to go through for the past 11 years."

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News