Ordeal took 'massive chunk from our lives'

 

BACKGROUND:YESTERDAY'S OPEN verdict into the death of their son Brian was perhaps as much as Pat and Siobhán Rossiter could have hoped for. It brings them another step along a road which stretches back six years and through more grief and pain than many parents could ever bear.

And while they may never know definitively what happened to their 14-year-old son and why he died, they will, by the time they conclude that journey, at least know that they have exhausted every avenue of inquiry and done all that is humanly possible to find the answer.

The fourth of Pat and Siobhán Rossiter's seven children, Brian moved with his mother and three younger siblings to Wexford on August 31st, 2002, after the couple separated. But he returned to Clonmel with his mother on September 6th for a weekend.

He was staying with his older sister, Sharon, then aged 23, and was due to return to Wexford on September 8th but missed the bus and sometime about 12.30am on Monday, September 9th, he was assaulted by Noel Hannigan near his sister's house on Cashel Street.

Noel Hannigan admitted at the inquest headbutting Brian four or five times but denied punching him or kneeing him in the face and Brian ended up with two black eyes and complained about headaches all through Monday and again on Tuesday, September 10th.

It was about 9.30pm on September 10th that Brian, having drunk some cider and smoked some hash, was arrested with his friend, Anthony O'Sullivan (14), on suspicion of public disorder after another friend, Daniel Leahy (14), was arrested for criminal damage.

It is at this point that evidence at this week's inquest begins to conflict with both Anthony O'Sullivan and Daniel Leahy testifying that they were assaulted by arresting gardaí and Anthony O'Sullivan testifying that Brian told him that he too had been assaulted by gardaí.

Gardaí said that while Brian was abusive following his arrest about 9.30pm, he later settled down in his cell and slept through most of the night but when they went to try and rouse him at 9.30am the next morning, they could not wake him and local doctors were called. He was taken to St Joseph's Hospital in Clonmel and transferred later to Cork University Hospital where consultant neurosurgeon Charles Marks removed a clot from his brain but he never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead on September 13th.

Pat Rossiter, who left his son in the Garda station that night in the hope it would be "a bit of a shock to the system", and Siobhán became seriously concerned when they learned one of the boys arrested with Brian had made a complaint of being assaulted by gardaí during his arrest. With assistance from their solicitor, Cian O'Carroll of Lynch and Partners, they lobbied the then minister for justice, Michael McDowell, and, in June 2005, he ordered a statutory inquiry to be carried out by senior counsel Hugh Hartnett under the Dublin Metropolitan Police Act.

The aim of the inquiry was to examine if there was any violation or neglect of duty by seven named gardaí, six serving members and one retired member, in relation to Brian's arrest and detention and over 100 witnesses testified over 80 days of taking evidence.

The inquiry report, published in April 2008, found that Brian was lawfully arrested, that it was not satisfied that he was assaulted during his arrest or while in custody and that there was no attempt by gardaí to mislead medical staff about Brian consuming alcohol and drugs.

However, Mr Hartnett found that there was a failure regarding the proper keeping of custody records, that Brian's detention was not lawful and that all the circumstances of his death were not properly investigated by gardaí.

Much of the evidence heard at the Hartnett inquiry was heard at the inquest including evidence from three forensic pathologists who agreed that Brian died from an extradural haematoma caused by blunt force trauma to the head.

All the officers involved in his apprehension on September 10th said nothing happened during his arrest or detention which could have caused his injury.

The eight-day inquest proved a gruelling and stressful experience for the Rossiters. They are taking a High Court action against the State over Brian's death. "No parent should have to attend their own child's inquest," said Siobhán. "The only way to describe the last six years is to say that a big, massive chunk has been taken from our lives."