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Wednesday 20 November 2019

'We put our faith in justice system but now we're disgusted' - family's anguish as father-of-two's inquest delayed by pathologist row

Heartache: Elizabeth Cash, with a photograph of her late brother Paddy Connors. Photo: Mary Browne
Heartache: Elizabeth Cash, with a photograph of her late brother Paddy Connors. Photo: Mary Browne
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

An inquest into the death of a father of two has been delayed because the Office of the State Pathologist (OSP) says it is unable to be involved.

The trial of a man for the murder of Patrick Connors (37) collapsed in controversial circumstances in 2013 following a dramatic intervention by then State pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy.

Now heartbroken relatives say they are again being denied "closure" as no death certificate can be issued until an inquest takes place.

Efforts by the family to secure an inquiry into matters relating to the trial's collapse have been rebuffed by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

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Mr Connors died following an incident in an apartment complex in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in April 2011.

His friend Michael Furlong later went on trial for murder, but the case collapsed after Prof Cassidy wrote to the DPP expressing concerns about the evidence of then deputy State pathologist Dr Khalid Jaber.

The High Court later prohibited a retrial, with Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns saying he could not imagine how difficulties surrounding the pathology evidence could be addressed or resolved.

Mr Connors's family, who are members of the Traveller community, have been pressing for an inquest and an investigation into the handling of the case for some time.

Wexford coroner Dr Sean Nixon said he hoped to hold an inquest by the end of the year, but may have to wait for a pathologist to become available as the OSP would not provide one. "They don't want to get involved. So we're looking at pathologists outside that system," he said.

In a statement, the OSP said it was "unable to be involved" because of "ongoing legal issues" unconnected to the family or the trial.

The OSP would not clarify what these legal issues were, but said it had discussed the case on a number of occasions with Dr Nixon and provided him with all relevant reports.

Relatives said the delay only added to their heartache and was particularly difficult for Mr Connors's elderly parents John and Elizabeth. "It's as if he didn't matter and his death meant nothing to anyone," said his sister Alice Cash.

Another sister, Elizabeth Cash, said: "We put our faith in the justice system but now we are angry and disgusted because we have received no justice at all."

In a letter to Mr Flanagan, Elizabeth Cash sought an unconditional apology from the Department of Justice and called for certain matters to be investigated. She disagreed with the decision of trial judge Mr Justice Barry White to collapse the trial following Prof Cassidy's intervention. Ms Cash queried why Prof Cassidy got involved when she was not the pathologist who conducted the post-mortem examination.

She asked why more time was not taken to consider the issue before the trial was halted and why Dr Jaber was not asked to provide his views.

Ms Cash also disagreed with the subsequent ruling by Mr Justice Kearns, saying she believed there was ample evidence to put before a court even if there were differences over the pathology evidence.

In response, Mr Flanagan's office said that while he wished to convey his deepest sympathies, he could not intervene given the independent role of the criminal justice agencies involved.

Prof Cassidy expressed a number of concerns about Dr Jaber's evidence in her letter to the DPP, including that he did not have his report peer reviewed. While she and two other colleagues agreed that Mr Connors's injuries were more than likely the result of an assault, her main concern was Dr Jaber's opinion about the mechanism of death.

Dr Jaber stood over his handling of the case, insisting he acted correctly and peer review was not a contractual term of his employment. But he resigned shortly after Prof Cassidy's intervention.

Prior to the Connors case, he had written to the DPP and the Royal College of Physicians suggesting Prof Cassidy was not qualified to hold the job of State pathologist. The Department of Justice expressed full confidence in Prof Cassidy. She retired last year.

Irish Independent

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