Sunday 19 May 2019

'We thought he was messing' - family of boy (9) stabbed to death by brother months after release from psychiatric hospital

Brandon Skeffington
Brandon Skeffington

Marese McDonagh

A nine-year-old boy was stabbed to death by his older brother just two months after he had been released from a psychiatric hospital, an inquest heard.

Schoolboy Brandon Skeffington was found with fatal stab wounds on the upstairs landing of the family home in Banada Tourlestrane, Co Sligo, on July 20th, 2014.

Forensic experts at the family home built by Shane Skeffington in Banada, Co Sligo. Inset: Shane Jnr and his younger brother Brandon (9).
Forensic experts at the family home built by Shane Skeffington in Banada, Co Sligo. Inset: Shane Jnr and his younger brother Brandon (9).

His killer, 20-year-old Shane Michael, died by suicide shortly afterwards. His remains were found in an outside shed beside the home. 

An inquest into the brothers’ deaths today at Sligo Coroner’s Court heard their parents found them after they returned home from a shopping trip with their two-year-old son Calum.

Parents Shane and Carmel Skeffington gave evidence of finding Brandon on the landing in blood-soaked clothing.

His lips were blue and he was pale, the inquest heard.

Shane Skeffington (top right) with younger brother Brandon Skeffington (bottom left)
Shane Skeffington (top right) with younger brother Brandon Skeffington (bottom left)

After the paramedics arrived, Shane Skeffington found his son Shane Michael in an outside shed. The inquest heard a knife with Brandon’s blood was found beside the older brother’s body.

The boys’ sister Sharon, who was aged 15 at the time, recalled in a statement that while her parents were away she was in her bedroom listening to music and texting friends.

At one stage she heard her brothers talking and playing ball together in the utility room beside her room. Then they went quiet and she assumed they had gone upstairs. At one stage Shane Michael had knocked on her door and called her name but her door was locked and when she asked “what?” he said: “ah nothing..just checking”.

Mrs Skeffington recalled that initially she thought Brandon was “messing” when she found him upon her return home.

Her husband Shane remembered that “it seemed like forever” before the paramedics arrived. When they arrived he went looking for Shane Michael “because I had a feeling he had done this” to Brandon. He found his body in a shed,

Mrs Skeffington told coroner Eamon MacGowan that Shane Michael had been admitted to St Columba’s hospital in Sligo on May 14 following a psychotic episode when he had kicked his father. She said the incident was totally out of character as Shane Michael would never lay a hand on any of the family.

She told the inquest that he had been smoking cannabis for about six or eight weeks before this. He would not eat in the hospital and would not take medication so he received injections. The coroner heard that the 20-year-old was put in seclusion in St Columba’s after he became agitated and aggressive. Mrs Skeffington said when she wanted to visit her son she was told it might upset him.

After a week they got a call and were told they could visit.

Psychiatrist Dr Donagh O’Neill asked them did they want to bring Shane Michael home. “We were shocked but happy he was coming home,” she told the inquest. He was to continue to take his medication, the drug Olanzapine, but she knew that as he refused to take it in hospital he would not take it at home.

Dr O’Neill confirmed to the inquest that while in hospital Shane Michael had to be restrained and that the medication was administered by injection as he refused to take it orally.

Dr O’Neill told Ciaran Tansey, solicitor for the Skeffington family, that Shane Michael had suffered cannabis induced psychotic symptoms and he would expect these to resolve as long as he stopped using cannabis - even if was not taking the medication.

There was a plan in place which had been online in a letter to the family’s GP and he was satisfied everything had been done correctly.

He told the coroner that he had been “surprised and shocked and also very saddened” by what had happened. Mr Tansey suggested that the family felt that “something fell between the cracks here” .

Mrs Skeffington told the jury that her oldest son failed to keep any of his outpatient appointments after being released “on leave”. A social worker had visited the house once and they had made no secret of the fact that he was not taking his medication. At the end of June, Shane Michael had been formally discharged.

He was quiet after he came out of hospital but tried to keep himself busy, saving turf and helping her with the shopping.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict of unlawful killing in the case of Brandon Skeffington.

They found by a majority verdict that his older brother had died as a result of suicide “as a result of unsound mind”.

The jury recommended that civil society should redouble its efforts to make sure young adults and children are educated about mental health and are encouraged to discuss their problems and fears

Deputy state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis who carried out the post mortems said that Brandon died as a result of three stab wounds which wounded his left lung. His older brother had died as a result of hanging.

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