Drug dealer died of heart attack in prison cell, inquest hears

John Branagan (50) found dead in Wheatfield jail in 2013

A drug dealer was found dead in his prison cell having suffered a heart attack, an inquest has heard.

John Branagan (50), formerly of Rosary Road, Maryland in Dublin 8 died in his sleep at Wheatfield Prison on December 29th, 2013.

The father-of-four was serving an 11-year sentence having been caught in possession of more than €55,000 worth of heroin and cocaine during a number of Garda raids on his home.

Branagan, an uncle of gang boss Freddie Thompson, pleaded guilty in January 2011 to six counts of possession of drugs with intent to sell or supply.


Dublin Coroner’s Court heard he died as a result of a pre-existing heart condition.

Branagan was locked into his cell at 7.25pm the night before he was discovered.

Prison officer Dave Ellis told the inquest he was speaking to Branagan that evening and he appeared fine. He was under special observations at the time with prison officers carrying out a visual check of his cell every 15 minutes via a hatch in the door.

Speaking from the body of the court, Wheatfield assistant chief officer Kevin Naughton said if an inmate is in bed when carrying out the visual checks, prison officers would not normally suspect there was a problem.

At 8.10am the following morning, prison officer Damien Garvey, whose statement was read into the record in his absence, went to Branagan’s cell to ask him if he wanted breakfast but there was no response.

Later, another prisoner left milk for Branagan in the cell and PO Garvey brought him his medication, leaving it on the locker inside the door. It was not unusual for Branagan to stay in bed asleep until 9.30am, the court heard.

Branagan was a former heroin addict and on the methadone programme. His death was discovered when officers went to his cell to call him to collect his methadone from medics at 9.50am. Paramedic Brian Heapes said rigor mortis was present in the arms and legs indicating he had been dead for some time.

Prison locum GP Dr JY Yeung said Branagan suffered from a wide range of health problems including a long standing heart condition and had suffered a heart attack in 2006.

The postmortem was carried out by deputy state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis who found Branagan had an enlarged heart with coronary artery disease and a coronary aneurysm.

Death was due to his pre-existing heart disease.

The jury returned a verdict of death by natural causes.