Coroner concerned at pensioners dying and not being found for months

‘Nobody realized he was missing. He seems to have become enveloped in a cloak of anonymity’

A coroner has expressed concern that pensioners are dying alone and not being discovered for months without any alarms being raised by State agencies.

Cork City Coroner Philip Comyn said the death of George Harrington (79) a father of five who lived alone in a flat at Imaal Court, The Glen in Cork was reminiscent of the death of fellow pensioner, Richie Scanlan (84).

Last week, Mr Comyn heard evidence at an inquest into Mr Scanlan's death that he was dead for at least six months at his home in Madden's Buildings in Blackpool in Cork when he was found on July 19th.

On Thursday, an inquest into Mr Harrington’s death heard he appeared to have been dead for about six months when gardaí gained entry to his flat on May 14th after his son raised the alarm.


The coroner said Mr Harrington's death was perhaps even more troubling in some respects in that he was a man who had been involved in his community, working as a caretaker at the Glen Resource Centre up to a year earlier.

But he had not been noticed missing for over six months despite being a man of routine, collecting both his pension at his local post office and his prescription medicines at a local pharmacy and shopping each week.

“Yet at the end of the day, nobody realised he was missing. He seems to have become enveloped in a cloak of anonymity, which is very troubling. He had not collected his pension or medicines for six months and no alarm bells rang.

“None of the people who had interactions with him seemed to have missed him and that perhaps is the greatest tragedy of this inquest,” said Mr Comyn after hearing evidence suggesting Mr Harrington died on November 18th 2018.


Mr Harrington's daughter, Mary Cullinane told how she collected her father from the Mercy University Hospital on November 14th, 2018 and stressed to him the need to keep in contact with his children as they did not know he had been in hospital.

He suffered from diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and he seemed quite breathless when she dropped him home, she said.

Ms Cullinane said her father would only contact his family when he wanted them.

“We would contact him by text. Sometimes you would get an answer, sometimes you would not. It would not be unusual to have no contact from him, he would contact us when he wanted to contact us,” she said.

Ms Cullinane said her father was not a drinker but was involved in community groups locally in the Glen and until he developed COPD, he worked as a caretaker at the Glen Resource Centre which was located beneath his flat.

He did not accept Meals on Wheels and had no involvement with the local public health nurse as he refused to accept he was old, said Ms Cullinane, adding he was fastidious about paying his ESB and phone bills and his car tax.

Les Harrington told how he called to see his father on May 14th and noticed his car had not been moved, had mould growing on the windscreen and his tax and NCT cert were out of date.

He got no answer when he knocked at his father’s flat and he went to a side entrance where he noticed a large amount of post gathered in the hall so he notified gardaí and they forced their way into the flat.

No sign of foul play

Garda Michael Nagle told the inquest that he found Mr Harrington in his dressing gown and pyjamas on the floor of the kitchen in an advanced state of decomposition and there was no sign of forced entry or any foul play.

The garda said he found the last opened post was dated November 14th and the earliest unopened post was November 19th. Milk in the fridge had an expiry date of November 23rd.

He checked with a local pharmacy in Ballyvolane and found Mr Harrington had last collected his medication on November 14th while the Department of Social Protection confirmed he had last collected his pension on November 16th.

Les Harrington later showed him a calendar where Mr Harrington marked off each day and the last day that had been marked off was November 18th, which was the last confirmed evidence of Mr Harrington being alive.

He had last paid his ESB bill in October 8th and last visited his GP, Dr Conor McNiece on October 16th, all of which suggested Mr Harrington’s daughter, Mary Cullinane was the last person to see him alive on November 14th.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster said Mr Harrington's remains were too badly decomposed to allow her establish an exact cause of death but she found no evidence of any trauma and ruled out any question of foul play.

She could not rule out other possible causes of death such as bronchial pneumonia but the fact he previously had cardiac issues suggested it was most likely he died from a cardiac event where death would have been quick.

Dr Bolster said that it was impossible to give a precise time of death but certainly the advanced nature of decomposition was consistent with Mr Harrington dying around November 18th as suggested by Garda Nagle.

Mr Comyn returned an open verdict in the absence of a clear cause of death and extended his sympathies to Mr Harrington’s family, noting that they were always available for him whenever he wanted to avail of the offer.

Mr Comyn also commended Garda Nagle on the professionalism and thorough nature of his investigation while Mr Harrington’s family also paid tribute to Garda Nagle for his professionalism and the sympathy he had shown them.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times