Open verdict recorded on death of woman pregnant with twin boys
“It was a normal morning with nothing unusual,” the husband of a woman who fell to her death while pregnant with twins told Dublin Coroners Court yesterday.
Anna Byrne (35), a nurse from Beechdale, Dunboyne, Co Meath, was 38 weeks pregnant when she went missing on March 7th this year. She was found off rocks at Howth the next day.
Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said suicide could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt and recorded an open verdict.
In his statement, Terry Byrne said his wife and two young sons were asleep in bed when he left for work at 6.30am on Wednesday, March 7th. At 11am, his wife phoned from the car park at Lidl in Clonee to say she was about to do a shop.
“At the end of the call, I told her to phone anytime if there was anything,” he told the court, “We told each other that we loved each other and I said ‘I’ll see you later’.”
The alarm was raised at 1.30pm when Mrs Byrne failed to collect her son from Montessori. Mr Byrne went to Lidl and phoned maternity hospitals and friends. His wife’s phone was ringing out. At 3pm he reported her disappearance to gardaí in Dunboyne.
Mrs Byrne’s blue Nissan Micra was found in the car park on Howth hill that night. A note was found in the car.
In evidence, Howth Coast Guard volunteer Robin Blandford said he was out walking at 11pm on March 7th when he noted a dark-coloured Nissan Micra being “driven unusually” towards Howth hill. Later he was called to participate in a search for a missing person whose car had been located at the summit car park. Mr Blandford said he was “certain” the car in the car park was the one he had seen earlier. At 7.40am the next morning the Coast Guard helicopter spotted an object on rocks. Mr Blandford and a colleague were lowered to the scene where a body was located. Mrs Byrne was pronounced dead at Howth lifeboat station at 10.40am. She was believed to have died eight to 10 hours earlier. Her injuries were consistent with falling from a height.
Master of the Rotunda Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, who did not treat Mrs Byrne personally, said while Mrs Byrne’s history of depression was recorded in the obstetric notes of her previous pregnancies at the Rotunda, it was not for her current pregnancy. Under questioning by Mr Byrne’s legal team, he said Mrs Byrne’s psychiatric team’s notes were kept separate from her obstetric notes to maintain confidentiality.
Six days before her death, Mrs Byrne and her husband attended Rotunda consultant psychiatrist Dr John Sheehan. She told him she was “preoccupied with having a daughter” and felt “devastated” when she discovered she was carrying twin boys. She described “a loss of interest” and “not feeling maternal”. Mr Sheehan said she showed no signs of suicidal ideation and presented as “low risk due to her gender, age, marital status and plans to the future”.
Asked by Mrs Byrne’s father, John Deeney, why the Rotunda did not admit his daughter, Mr Sheehan said she did not fulfil the criteria for admission.
He said his doubling of her antidepressant medication was to a “middle-of-the-road” dose and a sleeping tablet she was taking was light.
In summary, the coroner said, he did not think there was “any issue with regard to medication”. He described the note found in her car as “heart-rending and certainly a farewell letter” but said it was not dated.
He said he would have difficulty saying the evidence satisfied the legal test for suicide and recorded an open verdict.
He said he would write to the Rotunda indicating Mr Byrne’s concerns on the separation of obstetric and mental health case notes for pregnant women.