Coroner ‘not in position’ to hold Sandra Collins inquest

Family of missing woman believes there is sufficient evidence to confirm her death

Sandra Collins disappeared from her home in the seaside village of Killala on December 4th 2000.

Sandra Collins disappeared from her home in the seaside village of Killala on December 4th 2000.

 

The coroner for north Mayo has said she is not currently in a position to hold an inquest into the death of Sandra Collins, the 29-year-old woman who went missing 16 years ago.

Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald said she had been liaising closely with Superintendent Joe Doherty at Ballina Garda station, who has charge of the investigation into Ms Collins’ disappearance.

Dr Fitzgerald, one of two coroners for Mayo, is based in Crossmolina. “I am very much aware of the case and the family are in my area,” she said.

The coroner is awaiting a file prepared by gardaí into Ms Collins’s case. The coroner said gardaí were still investigating and were hoping more information might be forthcoming.

“I am not in a position to hold an inquest but would be anxious to see the file,” she said, once it was completed. As soon as she received the file she would consider it very carefully and might then be in a position to open a hearing.

At the weekend the missing woman’s family called for an inquest into her death and said they would approach the coroner to open a hearing as they believed there was sufficient evidence to confirm her death.

Ms Collins disappeared from her home in the seaside village of Killala on December 4th 2000. She was last seen at about 11pm after she bought chips in a local takeaway in and a pink fleece, later identified as hers, was found on the pier in Killala.

Despite a major and lengthy search in the aftermath of her disappearance, her body was never found.

At the weekend RTÉ showed footage of her being interviewed by Midwest Radio in 1995, five years before her disappearance.

She had her arms around her brother Patrick, then aged eight. Family members hope the footage may jog people’s memories.

Her sister Bridie Conway told RTÉ “it’s more poignant now and stronger than ever the need and want in us that we get her back and lay her to rest”.

Dr Fitzgerald said on Thursday she had received no direct approach from the family. “It is distressing for the family as it is for the families of other missing people. I understand their distress,” she said.

A case had been prepared for the courts but “we still have not got hard evidence”.

Two years ago a 50-year-old man accused of her murder was acquitted on the instructions of the judge in a Central Criminal Court trial.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy told the 12-person jury there was insufficient evidence to convict and directed them to find the accused not guilty.

During the case evidence was given that Ms Collins had had a pregnancy confirmed on the day of her disappearance.

The coroner said that for an inquest to be held they would require a body, evidence of the cause of death or proof of what happened.

She knew the family were appealing for people to come forward with evidence. She said an inquest could be opened without a body if there was sufficient evidence.

She added however that there had been a lot of hearsay and rumour over the years “but we cannot deal with rumour and hearsay. We have to deal with facts.”

Ms Collins’s family has long campaigned for her body to be returned for burial. Last year a plaque in her memory was unveiled on the pier in Killala.