Husband puts his 'trust and faith in the justice system'

Sat, Jan 19, 2013, 00:00

His wife Savita had given him the strength to get through the past three months since her death, Praveen Halappanavar said yesterday.

Speaking outside the courthouse in Galway following the 45-minute preliminary hearing of the inquest into her death, he described the past few months as a “tough journey”, saying people kept recognising him, but that they had been supportive.

“Basically, everyone knows me now. There has been huge support from my friends and my colleagues in work, so that has been some kind of boost.

“That has given me strength. I believe I am getting the strength from someone, from Savita. That’s the kind of person she was. She was always there for me.”

Quiet and alone

Mr Halappanavar sat quietly and alone, apart from a member of staff from his solicitor’s office, in the court for the hearing. There were two legal teams – one for him and one for Galway University Hospital – as well as two representatives from the Health Information and Quality Authority, which is conducting its own investigation into his wife’s death.

The coroner, Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin, opened proceedings by extending his “sincere sympathies and condolences” to Mr Halappanavar and undertook to “conduct this inquiry with solemn respect, dignity and courtesy to you and the memory of the deceased, your beloved Savita”.

He then worked his way through 10 items on the morning’s agenda, including the verification of documents being furnished by the Health Service Executive, the question of expert witnesses that may be called by both parties as well as by himself, photographs to be used and the identification of witnesses to give evidence.

Declan Buckley SC for Galway University Hospital said two of the potential witnesses, who had made entries into Mrs Halappanavar’s medical notes, were in a “difficult position” with regard to giving evidence to the inquiry, difficulties that “may be resolved” by the time the full inquest gets under way in April.

Solicitor for Mr Halappanavar Gerard O’Donnell raised his eyebrows as he looked over to his junior counsel, John G O’Donnell.

The coroner agreed he had been provided with “certificates of inability” to come to the inquest for two potential witnesses and said these had been provided in confidence.

John O’Donnell said his team would want to know what evidence the two absent witnesses would give if they were to attend.

“We would [also] want to know which documents are not available.” He said the fact that the pathologist’s full report was not yet ready was of “great concern”. He would have reservations about the inquest proceeding at all without these, he said.

Mr Buckley said he would write to Gerard O’Donnell explaining why the witnesses could not at this point attend the inquest.

Testy exchanges

There were further testy exchanges over the public airing of some of the contents of statements and of entries to Mrs Halappanavar’s medical notes in the previous 24 hours, between both counsel, and between John O’Donnell and the coroner when Mr O’Donnell was asked by Dr MacLoughlin to give an undertaking that there would be no further “leaking” of statements. “I’m sorry. I’m not giving you any undertaking,” he said. “I can certainly assure you we will comply with all our obligations under law. We are most anxious that this inquest proceeds promptly. It is not our intention to disclose documents to anyone.”

There were fewer members of the public in the courtroom than there were journalists for the mostly low-key hearing. There were about 20 members of the media, including cameramen, photographers and reporters. There was one representative of a pro-choice group and one of an anti-abortion group at the hearing.

Speaking outside after the hearing, solicitor Mr O’Donnell said it had been “news to us” that there were two witnesses who may not be able to give evidence. “Obviously, we will have to find out what they would be likely to say,” he said.

Mr Halappanavar said he was happy the inquest had begun, describing it as a “good step”. He said he had “trust and faith in the justice system”.

Asked if Mrs Halappanavar’s parents may travel from India to attend the inquest in April, he said they were “feeling very fragile, still grieving” and had yet to make a decision on that.