Children spent night with mother’s body in homeless accommodation, inquest told

Anne Marie Connors (30) died following overdose in Dublin in 2018

An 11-year-old boy who, with his sister (5), had been left alone overnight and most of the following day with their mother’s body in their homeless accommodation, asked a staff member who found them if it was “normal to sleep with eyes open”, Dublin Coroner’s Court has heard.

Anne Marie Connors (30) died of a heroin overdose at Camberely House family homeless accommodation in Churchtown, Dublin, on the night of April 17th/18th, 2018.

Her body was discovered, along with her children, between 4pm and 4.30pm on the 18th by her key-worker and a shift-attendant, slumped on the bathroom floor in the self-contained apartment at the facility, operated by Sophia Housing. The court heard on Friday she had died the previous night.

Carol Connors, her mother, told the court "Annie" had been a heroin user for a number of years but had completed a nine-month residential rehabilitation in Tiglin in 2014. She was concerned her daughter was using again and was severely depressed. She had raised this with Tusla and Sophia Housing, she said.

Her daughter had “lost hope” in the weeks before her death and told her sister: “I can’t do this anymore.”

Gerard Morgan, shift attendant at Camberely House, said he "had a chat" with Ms Connors at about 10.15pm on the April 17th, 2018. "She seemed fine... She seemed in good spirits. The kids were in bed," he said.

Phoned the office

The following day, during a team meeting , another resident phoned the office to say Ms Connors's son, who has autism, was alone in the corridor. He and project worker, Mary Coman, went to the apartment.

In her statement, read to the court, Ms Coman said when she knocked she heard the boy tell his younger sister to be quiet.

“When I asked to speak to Anne Marie again her son (11) told me that mom is busy. Then her daughter (5) told me her mom was busy sleeping. She informed me her mom is sleeping and she is lying on the bathroom floor, and she couldn’t wake her up.”

When they gained entry, said Ms Coman, she "noticed Anne Marie Connors was slumped in the bathroom doorway. I checked her pulse. She was cold and purple."

Mr Morgan took the children to the office. “Both kids told me they were hungry and I ordered them some food. The kids were asking me about their mum, ‘Is she ok?’ Her son asked me is it normal to sleep with eyes open and don’t shut, to which I responded, ‘Yes sometimes people sleep with eyes open’. He asked me as well, ‘Do you faint before you go to sleep?’”

Daily check

Carol Connors asked Mr Morgan why staff had not noticed the children had not been brought to school, and why Ann-Marie had not been called when she failed to attend a meeting with Ms Coman that day. He said he could not answer adding the only daily check made on residents was at night.

Paula Merriman, senior Tusla social worker, said her team had been supporting Ms Connors, with her consent, since 2015. No child protection concerns had been found. She said Ms Connors had been on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's housing list since 2007. She "adored her children" and their housing situation was "a constant stressor for her".

She was not allowed visitors at Camberely House and she felt isolated. “She was very honest in our discussions about her struggles with parenting the children, particularly as she was a sole parent living in a variety of emergency accommodation for many years with a child with special needs.”

Padraic Cassidy, project manager in Sophia Housing, said Camberley House was run under a service level agreement with the local authority. It was "short term, temporary accommodation not meant to last longer than six months... The reason service users would stay longer than six months is because of the lack of affordable, move-on housing for people," he said.

Dublin coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned an open verdict saying the cause of death was opiate toxicity.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times