THE Met Police in London have apologised to the family of a young Irish student who died after disappearing while on a night out in the UK capital.
Patrick Halpin (18) was a first year student in DCU when he went missing from a nightclub near Leicester Square on February 5. A massive search was launched for the actuarial student and his family were given fresh hope when Met Police said that he had been found alive.
However, his body was discovered a few hours later – he had fallen from the rooftop of a building on Leicester Square.
At the inquest in Westminster Coroners' Court yesterday, Det Sgt Paul Stephens told of how, in the early stages of the investigation, he had contacted the Border Agency to see if he had checked in on the flight he was due to take home.
He was told that Patrick was with Gatwick Police, news which he relayed to the family, but which turned out not to be the case.
Det Sgt Stephens said it was a "cruel twist in this investigation" and it emerged that the student had checked in for both of his flights in and out of London but was not actually on board. His body was found a few hours later.
"I can only apologise for the system failure. It is a horrible thing to happen," he told the court.
The inquest heard that on the night of his disappearance, Patrick had been with friends in the Zoo Bar off Leicester Square when he was asked to leave by security after he bumped into another person.
While seen to be swaying and occasionally missing his footing, he was not said to have been very drunk. He was co-operative and was told he would be allowed back in if he got something to eat.
CCTV footage shows him in the nearby Burger King on Leicester Square, going into a staff area through two doors which would normally be locked and up and down the stairs leading to the roof of the building.
When police searched the roof, they found his body on a lower section.
Det Sgt Stephens said a broken galvanised chimney stack was found on the ground floor and suggested Patrick had been holding onto that when it broke, causing him to fall to the roof four metres below.
Dr John David Van Der Walt, who carried out the post-mortem, said he believed that when Patrick fell and hit his head, he lost consciousness and the swelling on the brain – the cerebral edema – which caused his death had happened afterward. The amount of alcohol in his blood was found to be half the legal driving limit.
Assistant coroner Angela Hodes, who described the death as a "tragic, tragic accident" said she would be writing to the agencies involved in an attempt to prevent something similar occurring in the future.
"It appears that due to the particular procedure in relation to the airline, the information that was given to Detective Sergeant Paul Stephens was incorrect, leading to him erroneously informing the family that Mr Halpin had checked on to his flight," she said.
"This court will be writing to the relevant agencies to see what they can do about their procedures."
The family thanked the police, the coroner, family and friends in a statement after the inquest.
"Patrick will be sadly missed but as Regina suggested to us all in her tribute to her brother 'Live your life like Patrick did, with a smile and a song,'" the statement said.