Beating By Care Officer Not ‘Direct’ Cause Of Man’s Death

A patient at the Central Mental Hospital died from injuries incurred while he was being restrained by staff during his transfer from one part of the facility to another.

Gary Connell (35), who lived at the Morning Star Hostel in Dublin, died from restraint asphyxia and inhalation of gastric contents, which occurred during a restraint and control procedure on September 12, 2001 at the facility, an inquest at Dublin City Coroner’s Court heard yesterday.

David Quinn, a solicitor for Mr Connell’s mother Christine Heath, said: “It’s been a very stressful time for us over the last six years since Gary’s death in 2001. We are happy that all the facts have come to light over this two-day inquest. We are relieved the inquest has finally come to a close.”

The inquest heard that Mr Connell had assaulted a member of staff with a piece of broken glass at approximately 10.15am and was being transferred to a seclusion room in another unit.

Up to eight staff members employed a range of restraint and control techniques during the 30 minutes it took for the transfer, including wrist locks, to control Mr Connell.

State Pathologist Marie Cassidy, who carried out a post mortem on Mr Connell, told the court that the restraint asphyxia that caused Mr Connell’s death could have been caused by “any action which would affect breathing”.

The court heard that in the course of a transfer from Unit 5 to a seclusion room, Mr Connell was placed lying on the floor, face down on numerous occasions, and handcuffs were used to tie his hands behind his back.

Compression of his chest and neck would also have impeded normal breathing. “Death wasn’t caused by any one action. It seems to be a sequence of actions,” said Professor Cassidy.

The jury returned a narrative verdict in accordance with the evidence and recommended that an external and independent audit of policies and procedures should be undertaken at the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum to ensure “best practice in all areas”.

While he was being transferred, Mr Connell was assaulted by care officer Brendan Cullen who kicked him in the head among other injuries meted out.

The post mortem also revealed extensive bruising and other abrasive injuries to Mr Connell’s head, face, neck and body, some of which were consistent with kicks while others were probably due to being struck with the handcuffs.

Prof Cassidy said that while these injuries would not have directly caused his death, they were a contributory factor.

In a statement last night, the Central Mental Hospital said: “We would like to reiterate its sincere sympathies to the family of Mr Connell for their bereavement. We also welcome the outcome of today’s coroner’s inquest. All staff and management have been extremely distressed by the circumstances surrounding Mr Connell’s death.

“All policies and practices regarding violence and aggression have been revised, there has been an increase in nursing and consultant psychiatrist staff, and the closure of the ward in which the incident occurred.

“In addition, all staff are given regular training in safety techniques and prevention and management of violence. As a result, the level of service to all patients has been greatly increased.”