Sunday 18 February 2018

Revealed: The last hours of tragic student James Nolan

A coffin containing James Nolan's body is loaded into a coroner's van
Police divers bring in a body found floating in a canal in Bydgoszcz, northern Poland, Wednesday. Officials say the documents of missing 21-year-old Irish soccer fan James Nolan were found on the body. Photo: AP
James at his recent 21st birthday with parents Jimmy and Essie
James's parents, Essie and Jimmy Nolan, with a picture of their son
A picture in the home of James Nolan with some of his sports trophies

Fiach Kelly and Ed Wight in Bydgoszcz

THE heartbroken family of the young Irishman who went missing at Euro 2012 were last night making arrangements to bring his body home.

A body pulled from a river in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz has been identified as that of James Nolan.

His brother and uncle had been due to board a plane to Bydgoszcz yesterday afternoon hoping to help in the search for the student.

Instead, they boarded the flight shortly after being informed a body had been found matching the 21-year-old's description.

Police in the city have been piecing together the last hours of his young life.

They are satisfied he was not physically assaulted, and he may have tried to make his own way back to the hotel on foot when there was no room in a taxi with his friends.

The body was discovered by firemen around 11am yesterday on the third day of searches of the river Brda, which runs through the city.

Police also found Mr Nolan's wallet, credit cards, money and telephone.

Police spokesman Monika Chebicz said there was "no indication that the man was attacked".

"The body discovered this morning shows no sign of having been hit or beaten in any way," he said.

"We suspect this was simply a tragic accident."

Mr Nolan, from Blessington, had been missing since the early hours of Sunday morning, when he was last seen by friends at around 1.30am.

The friends had stopped off in the city for a night as they travelled from Gdansk to Poznan following Ireland in Euro 2012.

Two of them, Aaron Eustace and Adam Cullen, yesterday spoke of their shock at his death.

They and their other friends have remained in the city and were due to meet Mr Nolan's family last night.

His brother Andrew, his uncle Pat, Andrew's girlfriend Sophie Dennison and Andrew's brother-in-law Gareth Dudley made the trip last night.

They were met at the airport by Irish Ambassador to Poland Eugene Hutchinson and were brought into the airport terminal for half an hour before being taken into the city centre in a convoy of cars.

The ambassador last night confirmed that the body was indeed that of the young footballer supporter.

Mr Eustace said they only learned a body had been found while watching TV in their hotel lobby earlier yesterday.

"When we went to the scene, we still had hope that he would be found alive, but when we saw the ambulance that was it, we cried all the way home," he said. "It is a nightmare. It was our first trip away together. James loved football."

On the night James disappeared, the friends had been drinking in the Amsterdam Pub on the old market square.

Barmaid Daria Wojtysiak told local newspaper Gazeta Bydgoszcz that she remembered the group.

"They seemed to be having a great time. There were a lot of people in the bar that night, but there was something about this lot that stuck out.

"I remember the one who they found in the water. He was so nice and friendly. It's such a terrible shame."

After leaving the Amsterdam, the group went to the fan zone in the centre of the square where barmaid Agnieszka Lugiewicz at the Starowka Bydgoska pub remembers them.

"They were having loads of fun," she said.

Singing

"It was a great party atmosphere and they were very chatty and laughing and singing a lot.

"After the game finished they left the fan zone at around 11.30 and I saw them go into PRL pub," she said.

Inside, PRL barmaid Magdalena Peplinska served them bottles of Finlandia and Zoladkowa Gorzka vodka. "They left at around 1am," she added.

When the taxi arrived to take them back to the camper van site where they were staying 2km outside of the centre, they couldn't all fit in.

According to local local media reports, four of them climbed into the taxi while the others stayed. It is unclear what happened next.

However, James went up Farna Street, past the church and then came to the river, which according to local man Waldek Smyla, has claimed three other lives this year.

"It's not safe here," he said.

"You can see on the other side there's a fence preventing people getting too close to the water.

"But on this side there's nothing and little lighting.

"It's very easy for people to slip in the dark and into the water," he said.

Next to the spot where the body was found, locals have placed nine remembrance candles.

His friends said James was always the centre of attention, was always witty and cracking jokes. The trip to the Euros was their first away trip together.

"There is a photo which shows all seven of us in Stuttgart before the start of the tournament.

"That was the first one taken," Mr Eustace said.

Irish Independent

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