A Co Fermanagh mother who was killed by her former partner was let down by state agencies, her brother has told an inquest into her death. Concepta Leonard (51) was stabbed by Paedar Phair (55) at her home in Maguiresbridge on May 15th 2017.
Her son, Conor Gallagher, who has Down syndrome and was 30 at the time, was also injured in the attack. Mr Phair later took his own life in an apparent murder-suicide.
There were emotional scenes at Belfast Coroner’s Court during the first day of an inquest into Ms Leonard’s death. Ms Leonard’s close friend Sinead McKenna described how terrified her friend had been after being threatened by Mr Phair, and how they had established a rota to ensure people were with her as often as they could be. She broke down into tears, telling the hearing she blamed herself for not having arrived sooner on the day Ms Leonard was killed.
Even after Coroner Anne-Louise Toal intervened to reassure her, she insisted: “She should be here today, we’ll agree to differ”.
Ms Leonard’s brother Fergal described how Mr Phair “isolated” his sister from her family and questioned why he had not been detained after breaching an emergency non-molestation order that had been issued.
She had been due to go to court to secure a permanent order against Mr Phair.
A statement that Ms Leonard’s son Conor gave to police was read to the inquest, which included an account of how he and his mother had been preparing to have tea and scones together when Mr Phair arrived at the house and threatened her with a knife.
In the statement, Mr Gallagher described Mr Phair taking their phones and pulling a holy picture off the wall before forcing them upstairs to a bedroom where he stabbed Ms Leonard.
Mr Gallagher saw his mother being stabbed, and managed to retrieve the phones from Mr Phair’s pocket.
He threw a house phone at him, telling him to “put away the knife and go back to jail”. The phone hit Mr Phair on the back of his head, and he stabbed Mr Gallagher in the stomach before leaving.
Mr Gallagher went on to raise the alarm.
While the preliminary hearings in the inquest touched on the deaths of both Ms Leonard and Mr Phair, Coroner Anne-Louise Toal previously indicated that they will be dealt with as two separate inquests.
On Tuesday, State Pathologist Dr James Lyness, State Pathologist, who carried out the postmortem on Ms Leonard, found the cause of death was stab wounds of the chest and abdomen.
He said the wounds were likely caused by being stabbed with a bladed weapon, “such as the knife found at the scene”.
He described her as of slim build, and said she had had injuries to her hand consistent with trying to protect herself.
Mr Leonard was the first witness to give evidence.
He described how the family had reservations about Mr Phair due to his “bad reputation”.
“Connie was such a good girl, she said to me ‘everyone deserved a second chance’,” he told the inquest.
“Concepta changed so much, we would have often rang each other, conversations kept getting shorter and shorter, Concepta didn’t want to talk, I thought I’d done something to offend her.”
Mr Leonard said he noticed that friends were staying with his sister in her house, but she was very reluctant to tell him much.
“She told me she had got an emergency non molestation order but I had no idea of what was going on up until that time, had no idea what Phair’s capacity for violence was,” he said.
He said there had been several breaches of non molestation order, and if that had been followed up, and he had been arrested, “he would have been where he should have”.
There were threats against her, the inquest heard, including ensuring that she’d never work again, and that she would one day find him (Phair) dead in her garage.
He said his police assessed his sister as medium risk, which he queried, and said they should have recognised Conor was also vulnerable.
Mr Leonard said his sister was in a good place, having got a new job as a cook in a primary school and was looking forward to moving to a new house, believing the non molestation order would give her some security.
He also described her as a very talented musician, and had taught piano and the accordion to children.
“Concepta was very much loved and is still very much loved by all our family,” he said.
“She was a great home maker ... a fantastic mother to Conor, and a great sister to all of us, a great daughter to daddy and our late mother,” he said.
“I feel that Concepta was let down by some of the agencies, I think there was opportunities missed whenever there were breaches of non molestation order to arrest Phair and that would have been a different future to the way things are now.”
Ms McKenna detailed in her evidence how Ms Leonard had been in a relationship with Mr Phair and ended it after she suspected he had had an affair, but that he refused to accept that and “pestered her”, ringing her phone, her son’s phone and calling from a pay phone.
She described calls that persisted in the early hours of the morning most night, and threats to attack her so she couldn’t work again.
“She said Ms Leonard’s fear was he would beat her up in front of Conor.
She said Ms Leonard was concerned enough that she asked her to look after Conor if anything happened to her.
Ms McKenna was critical of the police response when she supported Ms Leonard in reporting what was happening, saying they told her to block Mr Phair’s number and to tell him not to contact her.
“I feel police in Lisnaskea were dreadful in how they dealt with Connie, they did not tell her much, did not reassure her, I think the NMO only incited Phair and he took no notice of it anyway,” she said.
She said the charity Women’s Aid got an alarm installed in Ms Leonard’s house, and the only time she used it was on the day she was killed.
“She was petrified ... we never thought he’d kill her, we always thought he would beat her up severely so she wouldn’t be fit to work,” she said.
“I think the system let Connie down, Connie was very brave, she did the hardest thing which was getting rid of him, she was trying to get her life like back together, the system let Connie down,” she said.
Becoming tearful she continued: “and I can say I let Connie down because if I had of been a wee bit earlier, I’d have been there, she knew I was coming, her guard was down, we never thought 2pm that would be a time (that he’d come).
“She should be here today.”
The inquest continues. - PA