A woman who suffered fatal burn injuries from a fire at her Limerick home four years ago told gardaí and family members before she died that she had been set alight by her former partner, an inquest had heard.
However, a sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court into the death of Martina Kiely (44) arising out of a fire at her home in the early hours of August 2nd, 2019 heard a Garda investigation into the incident had concluded there was no foul play or anything suspicious in relation to her death.
Ms Kiely, a mother of one from Shanabooley Road, Ballynanty, Limerick, died at St James’s Hospital in Dublin on December 31, 2020 – almost 17 months after suffering severe burn injuries in the fire in an upstairs bedroom of her home.
Det Gda Seán O’Hagan told the inquest on Tuesday that he was informed by Ms Kiely when he visited her in St James’s Hospital that her former partner, Kenneth Hynes, had sprayed a liquid on her before setting her on fire.
Det Garda O’Hagan said Ms Kiely was “very confused about events” when he saw her on February 22nd, 2020 and he decided she was not in a fit condition to make a statement.
He explained he was subsequently unable to take a statement from her on another date before her death because restrictions had been imposed on hospital visits following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Det Garda O’Hagan told the coroner, Aisling Gannon, that scene-of-crime officers who had inspected Ms Kiely’s house later on the day of the fire had found nothing suspicious to report following a technical examination of the property.
The inquest heard a report by forensic scientist, Lorna Corr, of Forensic Science Ireland, who examined debris from the fire including the victim’s clothing, had found no evidence of any accelerant at the scene.
Det Garda O’Hagan said no cause of the fire had been determined, while an electrical fault had been ruled out.
He claimed the house had been secured with no sign of a forced entry and a key was found on the inside of the front door which had to be broken down by fire officers.
Det Garda O’Hagan said the house was undisturbed while there was evidence of alcohol consumption in the property.
“There was no evidence to suggest any criminal aspect or malicious cause or third party involvement,” he added.
In reply to a question from the coroner, Det Garda O’Hagan said he believed he had conducted “a thorough and methodical investigation” into the fire at Ms Kiely’s home.
“All the evidence points to it being an unfortunate, tragic accident,” he observed.
While the witness said he was no fire expert, he said it appeared that the fire broke out in either clothing or a blanket that was wrapped around the victim who was found sitting on the floor with her back against the wall of her bedroom.
Det Garda O’Hagan said any cigarette that might have caused the incident would have been destroyed by the fire.
Addressing the coroner, the victim’s brother, Anthony Kiely, said his sister had also made the same claim about being set on fire by Mr Hynes to her family “on her death bed.”
Mr Kiely said she had told them that Mr Hynes had set fire to her clothes and punched her.
He claimed his sister had been in an abusive relationship with Mr Hynes for 12 of 18 years they were together.
However, Mr Kiely said he was not her partner but “a drinking buddy.”
“Kenneth Hynes set fire to my sister as far as we are concerned,” he remarked.
Mr Kiely later added: “We don’t want to spend the rest of our lives wondering what or maybe happened.”
Following the dramatic evidence, the coroner adjourned the hearing at the request of the victim’s family in order to address their concerns and to issue a summons to Mr Hynes to attend the inquest to give evidence about his statement which was read out in court.
In the statement, Mr Hynes said he had called to his partner’s house at around 5.30pm on the evening before the fire when they drank cans of Carling and vodka.
He said he went home around an hour later after he had popped into the kitchen and seen Martina talking to her sister, Ann.
Mr Hynes said Ms Kiely rang him later at 11.55pm to ask him to come back to her house but he declined.
He was subsequently woken by a neighbour at around 3am to alert him to the fire in Ms Kiely’s house.
Mr Hynes said he was stopped by gardaí from going near the property and went back to bed.
Ms Gannon said she could not respond directly to Mr Kiely’s comments at the hearing but she acknowledged his family’s “upset and sense of loss.”
Ms Gannon told them that Mr Hynes’ statement could not be considered as factually accurate unless he appeared as a witness at the inquest.
The inquest heard Mr Hynes had been cautioned by gardaí about the coroner’s request that he should attend the inquest on Tuesday to give evidence.
However, Ms Gannon was told that the gardaí and the family had not expected him to appear given the differences between him and Ms Kiely’s relatives.
The coroner said Mr Hynes would be expected to come to the next sitting of the inquest to give evidence and there would be repercussions if he did not attend.
She said she would also call on Dr Corr to provide evidence to the hearing so the family could ask questions about the forensic evidence from the scene of the fire.
The coroner adjourned the hearing until March 13th.
In earlier evidence, the victim’s daughter, Nikita, said her mother had suffered previous burns injuries which were linked to her drinking.
She claimed that she believed something similar had happened when she first heard about the fire in the upstairs bedroom but now did not think it was “the same as happened before.”
The inquest heard Ms Kiely had discharged herself from University Hospital Limerick a few days before the fire against medical advice after sustaining injuries in a fall which occurred after she suffered a seizure while drinking alcohol.
The victim’s sister, Ann Mulqueen, told the inquest Ms Kiely had been very upset about the death of their brother, Eddie when she saw her on the evening before her death.
She disputed claims by Mr Hines that her sister had been drinking vodka and stressed that while Ms Kiely had taken some drink she appeared “fine and was talking normally”
Ms Mulqueen said she saw Mr Hynes in the house but they didn’t talk as they didn’t get on because she had previously witnessed him assaulting her sister while he had also threatened her on the same occasion.