Open verdict at journalist's inquest

Fri, Nov 9, 2012, 00:00

An open verdict has been recorded in the Dublin Coroner’s Court into the death late last year of former Irish Times literary editor Caroline Walsh.

The inquest heard that there were concerns about Ms Walsh (59) when she failed to attend a scheduled appointment with a psychiatrist at St John of God Hospital in Stillorgan, Dublin.

Her husband James Ryan told the inquest he drove her to the appointment at 3pm on December 21st. When she had not returned to the car park by 4.30pm, he became concerned and discovered she had not attended. He alerted the Garda and, on returning home discovered their Volvo car was gone.

After various searches, the car was located by their daughter Alice at the West Pier in Dún Laoghaire at 11.40pm. A lifeboat was launched at about 12.15 am and Ms Walsh was discovered in “low water” 20 or 30 minutes later, Christopher Watson, an RNLI volunteer, said.

Garda Peter Daly of Dún Laoghaire Garda station said he discovered a number of items belonging to her on a ledge about 50 metres from the pedestrian walkway and 200- 300 metres from where she was found.

Garda Daly noted that “it was pitch black” and you couldn’t see in front of you without a torch. “It’s a very treacherous area,” he said. “You could lose your footing very, very easily.”

Garda Sgt Patrick Loftus said there were no witnesses, noting few people went at night on to the West Pier, which typically attracted fewer walkers than the East Pier.

Medical reports showed there was a diagnosis of depression about a month before her death but she had expressed no suicidal intentions. There were two or three units of alcohol in the blood and traces of prescribed medication which were above therapeutic levels but the cause of death was drowning, Dublin coroner Dr Brian Farrell said.

Solicitor Michael Ryan, representing the family, said her depression had “coincided precisely” with her being diagnosed with a thyroid condition which had affected her physical health.

Dr Farrell accepted there was a “temporal relationship” but there was no evidence of a connection between the thyroidism and the psychosis.

He said to return a verdict of suicide the evidence would have to show Ms Walsh took her own life “and intended to do so beyond reasonable doubt”.

He said the evidence did not satisfy this legal test so he was recording an open verdict.

The cause of death was drowning.