The husband of young woman who died in September 2010 eight days after giving birth at Sligo Regional Hospital today interrupted an inquest into her death describing it as "a bloody cover-up".
Coroner Eamon MacGowan had earlier been told by Damien Tansey, solicitor for the family of Dhara Kivlehan, that they were "stunned and sickened" at what they saw as his extraordinarily restrictive approach.
Mr Tansey indicated that the family might go to the High Court to seek a judicial review following the Coroner's proposal to call only six witnesses when the inquest starts hearing testimony in September.
The solicitor said the Northern Ireland Coroner had intended to call 24 witnesses before the Attorney General directed Mr MacGowan's predecessor to hold an inquest in the Republic.
Mr Tansey said the family was now so concerned about the thoroughness of the inquest about to be embarked on that they might withdraw their request to have it in this jurisdiction and seek to have it instead in Northern Ireland.
India-born Dhara Kivlehan was 29 when she died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after being transferred by helicopter from Sligo. She had developed HELLP, a severe form of pre-eclampsia.
Last December in the High Court, the HSE agreed to pay her family €800,000 in damages and “unreservedly” apologised to them.
In his submission at today’s hearing in Carrick-on-Shannon, Mr Tansey said that during the handover, medical staff from Sligo told the helicopter winch man “it is only a matter of time”. He said one of the issues the inquest would focus on was the fact that the young mother remained in the Sligo hospital for four days after giving birth to her son, Dior.
Mr Tansey repeatedly questioned Mr MacGowan's "bewildering" decision to call only six witnesses, two from Sligo, two from Belfast, Ms Kivlehan's widow Michael and Dr Peter Boylan as an expert witness. At the end of the hearing, the Coroner remarked that the list of witnesses was "reviewable", saying he could review it "up or down".
He had been told at the opening of today's hearing that Michael Kivlehan was not present as he was "quite annoyed and upset" at the Coroner's proposal to call only six witnesses.
This followed a hearing last month to hear submissions on witnesses from the family and the HSE.
Towards the end of today’s proceedings Mr Kivlehan slipped into the back of the Coroner’s Court and after listening for some time interrupted, claiming it was a cover-up. “My wife was Indian… I am the last on the list. Why is that?” he asked. Saying he was lucky, given the state of his health, that he was able to turn up, Mr Kivlehan told the Coroner: “Shame on you.”
Indicating the family had waited four years for an inquiry, Mr Tansey told the Coroner it would be as exhaustive as the facts warranted. He asked why the Coroner had decided not to call 10 doctors from Sligo hospital regarded by the family as essential witnesses, and pointed out that no nurses or midwives from Sligo were on the list.
In a letter dated July 11th last written by Mr Tansey to the Coroner, which he read at today's hearing, the solicitor pointed out that statements had been taken from 60 witnesses for the Savita Halappanavar inquest and that 16 of these had been called to give evidence. He said the Galway Coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin had made a decision on whether to call witnesses based on written statements from them . "You have utterly failed in this regard," the solicitor added.
Dr McLoughlin clearly felt he could not discharge his function correctly without hearing from this many witnesses, Mr Tansey added. “The family fail to see how you can come to a completely contrary decision in a similar case,” he wrote.
He told the Coroner that the purpose of an inquest was to allay the public’s fears that similar fatalities could occur again, and if he did not change his position people would remain “unsatiated in their concerns for the wellbeing of mothers-to-be in Sligo and the surrounding areas”.
Mr Tansey said the Coroner had acceded to the HSE’s request to restrict the number of witnesses and had ignored the family’s entreaties to call identified witnesses. “By doing this , you must know, you are in effect shutting down the inquest and unduly restricting it to the point that if it proceeds along the lines that you propose, it will be legally unsafe.”