Irish student died after 4-metre fall in London, inquest told
Patrick Halpin (18), who was studying actuary in DCU, was on a trip with fellow students
A handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of Patrick Halpin. The family of the ‘gifted and talented’ student who disappeared during a college trip to London was given false hope he was alive when they were mistakenly told he had boarded his plane home to Ireland, an inquest has heard. Photograph: PA
The 18-year-old Loughrea, Co Galway student, a first-year actuary student at Dublin City University, had been on a trip to London with fellow students.
His father, Paddy sobbed frequently during yesterday’s Westminster Coroner’s Court before Coroner Angela Hodes, comforted by his wife, Elsie and daughter, Regina.
However, the Galway youth had checked in online, not in person. The UK Border Agency had not received the list of passengers actually onboard the Ryanair flight when they said he had been found.
Apologising to the family for “the systems failure” at Gatwick, Det. Sgt. Stephens said changes to rules and training have been introduced since Mr Halpin’s death.
In a statement later, the Halpin family paid tribute to the Metropolitan Police saying that it had “worked tirelessly to find Patrick”, naming officers who had been “a credit to their force”.
“Any lesson learned during the investigation that will reduce the impact on and help other families who find themselves in similar circumstances will be welcomed,” the family.
Det Sgt Stephens said Mr Halpin had been asked by bouncers to leave the Zoo Bar, off Leicester Square shortly after midnight after he had accidentally knocked into another patron.
Toxicology tests later carried out on Mr Halpin’s body later found that he had just 40mg of alcohol per 100mg of blood - half the legal limit.
Some alcohol would have metabolised after death, but Det. Sgt. Stephens said three doormen reported that Mr Halpin had “been tipsy, but not drunk and was polite and co-operative”.
They had told him to leave and go and get something to eat and that he would be allowed back. Mr Halpin told friends that he was going for something to eat.
He went to a nearby Burger King. Close-circuit television cameras later showed him making his way into a staff area in the restaurant through two clearly-marked doors.
The doors are fitted with number-coded push-button locks, but the doors were left on the latch by staff during busy times as they went to and fro.
On the video, Mr Halpin is seen as being unsteady on his feet occasionally, missing a door-handle at one point and having to take a step backwards.
Inside the staff area, the 18-year-old used the toilet before scrambling out onto the roof at the back, possibly in an effort to get back into the Zoo Bar.
Two mobile telephones were found on his body. One was used by Mr Halpin as a camera only and held a video that he had shot on the roof shortly before he is believed to have fallen.
The alarm was raised by friends the following evening when he did not turn up at a theatre.
The Metropolitan Police tagged his case as a medium risk immediately because he was new to the city. It was upgraded further to high-risk the following morning.
Police then contacted clubs and others in the West End in a bid to trace Mr Halpin, along with getting his telephone records.
Mr Halpin was found later that day bare-footed, with his trainers tied together around his neck - which has led police to believe that he had taken them off to climb down from the roof of Burger King.
A galvanised chimney had broken and fallen through netting and Mr Halpin’s body was found on a roof which is just four metres below a surrounding roof.
Det Sgt Stephens said he believed Mr Halpin had grabbed onto the chimney to make his way down a 45-degree slope, but the chimney had broken under his weight.
A manager in the Zoo Bar who lives in a nearby flat overlooking the lane at the rear of the building heard a cry at 6am, but saw nothing when she looked out.
Expressing “sincere condolences” to the family “on this tragic, tragic accident, Ms Hodes said Mr Halpin had been “a hard-working young man”.
He had studied Monday to Friday in DCU, where he attended along with his sister, Regina, and then came home to Loughrea at weekends to work in a part-time job.
Giving evidence about the postmortem, Dr John Van Der Walt of St Thomas’ Hospital said he had died from brain swelling caused by concussion suffered in a fall. He had an eight-centimetre abrasion on his left-hand, along with a mark above his left eye, but there were no marks elsewhere on his head, but this was not uncommon in such deaths.
Responding to an invitation from the coroner to ask questions, Mr Halpin’s sister, Regina asked Dr Van Der Walt if he “had any idea how long he had been unconscious”.
Replying, the St Thomas’ doctor said the degree of swelling found would have taken hours to occur, but Mr Halpin “would have been unconscious”.
Mrs Halpin hugged her husband while Dr Van Der Walt gently continued: “It isn’t an exact science, but it is likely that he would have lost consciousness immediately.”