George Nkencho family asks inquest to examine policing of black community

Inquest told the 27-year-old died from ‘multiple gunshots wounds to the trunk’

The inquest into the death of George Nkencho should examine the broader issue of the policing of the black community in Ireland, a coroner has been told.

The submission was made at Dublin Coroner's Court as the inquest opened into the death of the 27-year-old, who was shot dead by gardaí in front of his home in Clonee on December 30th last.

The inquest has now been adjourned until the conclusion of an investigation into the shooting by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) and any subsequent referral to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).

Stuart Duguid, senior investigating officer with Gsoc, said the investigation is "part-way" complete and the aim was to have it concluded before the anniversary of Mr Nkencho's death.

Mr Nkencho died after being shot by the Garda Armed Support Unit outside his home shortly after he had assaulted a shop worker. He was armed with a kitchen knife and had been suffering from mental health issues in the months beforehand.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane read out pathology evidence that Mr Nkencho died from "multiple gunshots wounds to the trunk with no contributory factors". The court also heard how Mr Nkencho was formally identified the day after his death by a relative nominated to liaise with the authorities.

Barrister Seán Rafter, who is representing the Nkencho family, asked the court to not just consider the specific circumstances of Mr Nkencho’s death but to examine the “broader circumstances of a young black man who died at the hands of a white police officer”.

‘Broader questions’

The inquest should consider “broader questions of policing and discrimination”, Mr Rafter said, adding that Mr Nkencho’s death has “resonated” with others internationally. He said the family was also concerned about “nasty rumours and lies” which spread online in the wake of Mr Nkencho’s death.

Dr Cullinane said the application may be somewhat premature but that she will give these matters “dues cognisance while remaining within my powers under the Coroners Act.”

The coroner expressed her “very deepest condolences on the very tragic circumstances of George’s death. The court commiserates with you.”

She explained that the role of the coroner is examine deaths which occur in sudden, unexpected or unnatural circumstances. The coroner’s job is to establish facts rather than lay blame, she said.

Dr Cullinane adjourned the inquest until December 14th, 2021, when she will hear an update on the Gsoc investigation.

After the inquest Mr Nkencho’s sister Grateful said it was a “heart-breaking day for our family, a day we never expected to have to go through”.

She said the opening of the inquest was a necessary milestone but that it brought back “the horror of what happened to George on our own doorstep”.

‘Gravest of matters’

She said the shooting of any person by gardaí “is the gravest of matters in Ireland” and that this “can never, never happen again”.

Ms Nkencho asked why trained negotiators could not have been used before her brother's death, as happened during a siege incident in Blanchardstown last month during which a man shot at gardaí and was later arrested unharmed.

“All we want is a full investigation to bring out truth and justice.”

Ms Nkencho said the Government has agreed to their request to set up a local diversity forum in Blanchardstown.

Outside the inquest, which was held in the RDS in Dublin to accommodate social distancing, a group of between 30 and 40 demonstrators gathered in support of the Nkencho family. Speeches were delivered by former TD Ruth Coppinger and other activists and the crowd chanted "Justice for George".

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times