Open verdict given at Rossiter inquest

 

A JURY yesterday returned an open verdict at the inquest into the death of 14-year-old schoolboy Brian Rossiter who died two days after being found unconscious in a cell at Clonmel Garda station.

The jury returned the verdict after finding in accordance with the medical evidence that Brian was pronounced dead at Cork University Hospital on September 13th, 2002, and that he died from an extradural haemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to the head. The jury also made two recommendations regarding the treatment of detained persons in Garda custody which Cork city coroner Dr Myra Cullinane said she would bring to the attention of the appropriate authorities.

The jury recommended that medical attention be called to Garda stations for any individual, particularly someone under 17, if they show any obvious sign of injury or illness and that social services should be available to gardaí at all times for dealing with young persons. The verdict and recommendations came after the jury of four men and four women spent just over an hour at Cork City Coroner's Court considering the evidence given by 31 witnesses over seven days of testimony spread across three weeks.

Dr Cullinane told the jury that they had heard significant conflicting evidence on what had happened to Brian but that they could let that conflicting evidence stand on the record of the inquest and they were not expected to resolve it in their deliberations.

They could only return a verdict supported by the evidence and they were prohibited from implicating, blaming or exonerating anyone in their verdict and as a result, they could not return a verdict of unlawful killing, Dr Cullinane said.

Dr Cullinane advised the jury that they could return an open verdict if they felt that they did not believe the evidence went beyond the medical cause of the death while they could also return a narrative verdict but that could not include judgment or opinion.

She suggested to the jury that they might wish to add riders or recommendation to their verdict with a view to serving the public interest and preventing further deaths but such recommendations must be expressed in general terms.

Since Brian's death, the Garda Ombudsman Commission has been established and it now investigates any incidents involving people in Garda custody, while more detailed and comprehensive Garda custody records have been introduced since 2006, she pointed out.

Dr Cullinane stressed it was a matter for the jury if they wished to issue any recommendations but among the areas they might wish to consider is that gardaí should identify anyone they consider high risk due to their injuries, alcohol or drug abuse or age.

They might also wish to consider the possibility of introducing CCTV cameras into some cells to allow observation of detainees considered at risk while she also suggested that they might wish to call for adequate foster care facilities for any child that gardaí wish to put into care.

The jury retired to consider the evidence and following their return with an open verdict and recommendations, Dr Cullinane expressed her condolences to Brian's parents, Pat and Siobhán, on the loss of their son.

Mary Ellen Ring SC, for the six named gardaí, expressed their condolences to the Rossiter family. Stephen Byrne, for the Garda Commissioner, said it was every parent's worst nightmare to lose a child and he expressed condolences on behalf of the commissioner.

Solicitor for the Rossiters, Cian O'Carroll, thanked Dr Cullinane and her staff for their courtesy and consideration throughout the hearing. He also thanked the jury for their deliberations.