THE family of a woman whose body went undiscovered for three-and-a-half years almost stumbled across her while searching for her in the days after her disappearance, an inquest heard yesterday.
The body of Bernie Gavan (59), from Dunsink Drive in Finglas, was eventually found in March last year in undergrowth at the bottom of a steep incline beside an electricity pylon in the Tolka Valley Park.
She was discovered by children who had been playing football nearby.
No cause of death could be determined but it is believed Ms Gavan may have had a heart attack while falling into the hole.
She was reported missing from Daneswood House in Ballymun, where she had been a resident and receiving treatment for bipolar disorder, in the early hours of August 20, 2007.
Residents of Daneswood are free to come and go as they please but must get permission for overnight stays with family.
Staff at the facility became worried when Ms Gavan failed to return on August 19, 2007.
They raised the alarm shortly after midnight and both family and gardai carried out searches over the following days.
Ms Gavan's brother, Frank, said that the family had searched the Tolka Valley Park having been told of several sightings of her on the day she was reported missing.
At one point, another family member nearly stumbled into the same hole. "We were right beside her," said Mr Gavan.
State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy attended the scene but said that it was not possible to carry out a full post-mortem because the body was in a skeletal state. Aside from some animal interference, there was no bone damage.
However, Prof Cassidy noted the position of the body when it was found and said that it suggested that Ms Gavan made no attempt to extricate herself from the situation. The deceased had a history of heart problems, she said, and may have had a cardiac arrest from the shock of falling down the slope.
Coroner Dr Brian Farrell was forced to adjourn the inquest when the family raised issues relating to when they were notified by Daneswood House and gardai that Ms Gavan had gone missing.
The issues raised needed to be heard before a jury, he said, but it had not been possible to secure a jury for yesterday's hearing.
The inquest was adjourned for further hearing on June 15.