On 19th May 2009, the day of the inquest, I packed all the material into a pretty hefty suitcase and set off for the Court. The Coroner’s Court is held in an old red bricked Victorian building on the corner of Chichester Street and Victoria Street. The building used to serve as Belfast Town hall up until 1906 when the more elegant present City hall was completed. It is a depressing place to visit due both to its architecture and its purpose, but this is relieved somewhat by a friendly and helpful staff.
I was early and joined the rest of the family for a coffee in the nearby Victoria Centre. My brother wondered who would be at the Court. I ran through the list of witnesses. I mentioned the shortfall in witnesses but explained that the list was a matter for the Coroner and not me. Based on my experience of the Legal attendance at the previous Court hearing on 25th August 2005, I expected the same level of representation this time. This was the day when the Police and Forensics would have to account for their Reports in detail. I said that it was quite likely that the Police, Forensics and Carson would all have barristers to represent them. I also suggested that there may be one or two cub reporters noting the proceedings.
We made our way to the Court. My family remained in the Reception area and I made my way into the Courtroom where the Inquest was to be held. It was empty except for the Forensic Officer Coll and my accident investigator McLoughlin sitting to the left and giggling like a couple of schoolgirls. They spotted me, stopped giggling and said hello. I didn’t reply but got on with emptying the contents of the suitcase onto the bench which the clerk had allocated me. It was a long bench and it was needed because the paperwork was copious. Had I been a barrister I would have someone, perhaps a solicitor, to help me recover documents as required, but I felt I was sufficiently well organised to cope.
When the Court was about to sit, I realised that there were no barristers present, only a solicitor to represent Carson. That was odd. Why did the other parties not now feel the need for representation? Did they know something I didn’t? I didn’t have time to speculate further because the court rose on time at 10 am and Coroner Leckey took his seat. We introduced ourselves to the Coroner, the solicitor representing Davis and me representing Raymond’s family. I think the Coroner may have introduced a representative of the pathologist but I don’t remember.
The Coroner started off by explaining the purpose of the Inquest. He went on to say that he had excused Witness One as a witness as he had a previous appointment in London. Witness No 1 was the first person on the scene and had called the Ambulance at 1449. He was a vital witness if I was to show that the altered accident time of 1443 was wrong.
The Coroner then announced that none of the Police witnesses had appeared, that inquiries were being made, but in the meantime he would continue with the hearing. I later concluded that the Police were never called and the Coroner was lying when he said that he was making enquiries about their whereabouts.
The Coroner read out a summary of the Autopsy Report. At the beginning he made a point of stating that the Report showed that Raymond had a history of a heart condition. He then went on to list the main injuries found and at the end he again stressed Raymond’s heart condition, presumably to reinforce the point. He failed to read out the last paragraph of the Autopsy Report where it said :
“The autopsy also revealed severe degenerative narrowing of one of the coronary arteries of the heart, an old heart attack, slight emphysematous change in the lungs, fatty change in the liver and an old stroke in the brain but these conditions played no part in the fatal outcome.”
He had ignored a most vital part of the Report and I should have challenged him on it, but he did not ask for comments or questions so I did not have an opportunity. I made a note to bring it up later.
The Police still had not put in an appearance so, in the meantime, he decided to work his way through the list of witnesses.
Witness three, the off duty Police Officer, was the first to be called. His statement was read out to him and he agreed with it. He had been passed on his way to Kells by a Subaru doing in his estimation 80 or 90 mph. He was confident and convincing in his evidence.
The Coroner said that he knew the Steeple Road well and would have expected there to have been several video cameras on the road as it was a busy road. He wondered if they had been checked. He was obviously confused about the location for him to make such an observation. The Steeple Road in the scale of things is a quiet minor road with a traffic flow of 1.5 cars per minute. Again I didn’t try to challenge him. Witness three quite rightly didn’t challenge this either. I was asked if I wished to ask the witness any questions. I rose to my feet. I asked him if he would mind telling the Court what he did for a living. He said that he was a police officer at the time but had since retired. I suggested that he would have the experience to assess the speed of the car and he agreed. I established that he was one mile from the crash site when he the Subaru passed him. I asked him if it was right that he had agreed to voluntarily make a statement when he had heard of the crash on the news when he got home. He agreed that he had.
The second witness to be called was Witness two, who had been waiting at the stop line in Eskylane Road when the Subaru drove past her at 80-90 mph. Her first statement was read out to her and she agreed to it. She appeared to me to be both calm and confident. She was first questioned by the Coroner about how sure she was about the excessive speed of the car. She was confident of her evidence. Carson’s solicitor was invited to ask questions. He asked her why she had stated that she did not hear the crash even though she had her windows down. She said that she didn’t know but she did not remember hearing the crash, only seeing the debris flying in the air. He then asked her if she could tell the speed of the Subaru by the sound of the engine. I didn’t understand the point and neither did Witness Two. He went on to ask her if she would know the difference between a car passing her at below the speed limit and another car above the limit. She said she would.
I was then asked to put any questions to her.
I took her through the circumstances of her making a second statement to an Insurance solicitor instigated by me. She agreed with what I said. I asked her if she had seen a red car or any car cross in front of the Subaru before he reached the junction. She had not. I asked her if she had found that her view of the Kells bound lane had been obstructed by the hedge and slope and she agreed. I can’t be sure but I believe I asked her if she saw only the Subaru crash but not what it had crashed into as she had stated in her second statement. That was correct.
I then offered the Coroner a copy of her second statement but he did not wish to see it. I thanked Witness Two for appearing and sat down. Her second statement was not read out to the Court.
The third civilian witness to be called was Witness Four who had been the first to call the Police at 1449 and who had been overtaken by a Subaru about half a mile from the scene at “great speed, definitely beyond the speed limit.” His statement to police was read out to the Court and he agreed to it.
I was invited to ask Witness Four questions.
I reminded him that we had met in a car park on the 29th May 2006 when I had asked him about his call to the police and asked him for a copy of his mobile account, which I then read out to confirm that he had made the call at 1449. I reminded him that at the time he recalled being passed at very high speed by a dark blue Subaru on the way to the accident. He agreed that the pass took place about half a mile from the junction. Mr Craig said that he was travelling at around 50-60 mph at the time. I asked him to identify his mobile account which he did and I read out the relevant entry where he had made a call to the Emergency Services at 1449 and that the call lasted 1.06 minutes. He agreed. I offered it to the Coroner but he declined to accept it. I asked if he remembered about the Subaru only after I had told him that a Subaru was involved. He agreed. I told him that during the conversation he had described the Subaru as dark blue. He agreed. I explained to him and the Court that I didn’t follow up on that evidence as I was under the impression that the Subaru was black. It was only later that I realised that its official colour was blue/black mica. I offered a copy of the servicing schedule to the Coroner to establish the colour, but he did not wish to see it. The Coroner questioned him about why he had not included this additional evidence in his original statement to the Police. He replied that he wasn’t asked and wasn’t given any details of the accident. The Coroner expressed a certain degree of incredulity at the reply and pressed him further stating that he had great doubts about the police not asking about this at the time. Witness Four explained he couldn’t see the site of the crash and that the first time he knew what vehicles were involved was when I had told him a long time later. The coroner then asked him if he noticed who was driving the Subaru and Mr Craig said that he hadn’t. The Coroner again expressed his doubts about the Police failure to ask about this. I explained to Witness Four and to the Court that I had found that it was characteristic of this case that the Police failed to ask the right questions from any of the witnesses.
The Coroner said that the time of the call to the Police had already been established. I told him that it had not been properly investigated by the Ombudsman who did not have the resources to do so. They simply asked the Station Sergeant in the Central Control and accepted that the time was 1443. There was no investigation. The Coroner did not pursue the matter further and Mr Craig was excused.
This case was not going well from my point of view and I was not establishing facts to any great degree with the Coroner, but I didn’t have time or skill to analyse what was going on.
The next witness was Mr Coll the Forensic Officer.
Mr Coll took the stand. The Police still hadn’t shown up. The Coroner read out the letter from the Police Ombudsman. I didn’t note which parts he read out or skipped but it included segments from the content of the covering letter sent to him by the Ombudsman in 18th February 2008 which read :
“Mr Lynn’s complaint against police was formally closed in August 2005. The investigating officer Sgt McBride stated that the evidence at the scene indicated that the car driven by Mr Lynn’s brother had crossed onto the wrong side of the road. There was no evidence at the time that Mr Carson caused Mr Lynn’s brother’s death by either careless or dangerous driving The Police Ombudsman’s investigation concluded that Sergeant McBride fully investigated all lines of enquiry, such as allegations that Mr Carson had been speeding or using his mobile telephone prior to the accident.
The vehicles were properly examined and the accident report compiled by Sgt McBride was factually based. The scene was photographed, mapped and video recorded and investigated in accordance with the force policy of the PSNI. The errors within the collision report were deemed to be administrative and the Sergeant accepted full responsibility for them. This did not impact upon the collision investigation or the officer’s conclusions and there is insufficient evidence to prove any misconduct on the part of police regarding Mr Lynn’s allegations.”
No mention was made of Mr Kane’s views. At the time I had considered this a scurrilous letter which did not reflect the true findings of the Ombudsman as known to me but which I knew at some time would be used to undermine my case. I felt that I was wasting my time in this Court and no justice would be found there. The Coroner was being highly selective in the list of witnesses and selective in the evidence that he would consider hearing. It seemed to me that just as the Police had appeared to jump to a conclusion first and then make the evidence fit, the Coroner had allowed only the witnesses and the evidence that he hoped would match his pre-determined conclusion. If I was right then I was there merely as a token family representative.
As you now know this letter was withdrawn completely by the new Ombudsman several years later as detailed in Post dated 13th August 2018.
The Coroner might well have already known of the dodgy nature of the letter and might even have requested it from Meehan. That is a possible reason why he refused to call either Meehan or Kane as witnesses as they could have been challenged on its contents.
Mr Coll was asked to read out the conclusions from his two Reports. He reminded the Coroner that I had made a complaint about him and had questioned his professionalism. Coll stated that after my complaint he had consulted his colleague and he agreed with him (Coll). The Coroner indicated that he was aware of this. He then read out both conclusions of his two Reports. He said that he was in no doubt that my brother’s car had been on the wrong side of the road when it collided with the Subaru coming the other way. He said that this was based on several factors, including the rest position of the cars on the road, the damage sustained and the marks on the road and verge. The Coroner then asked a series of what I would consider soft questions about how the accident happened and in each case nodded in agreement with Mr Coll’s replies. I didn’t note all the questions but probably the bulk of them. By now I was losing interest. I had come to the conclusion that this was not an inquiry or a search for the truth, but simply a process to be formally completed.
The Coroner asked him about his assessment of the speed of the vehicles involved. Mr Beatty replied that stationary cars (presumably referring to Witness Two) could not accurately assess the speed of passing vehicles. The Coroner nodded in agreement. He went on to say that Witness Two did not say that the Subaru was out of control when it passed her. Indeed she did not. He went on to explain in his experience it was generally the case that the heavier vehicle was slower than the lighter vehicle. Again the Coroner nodded to show that he was in agreement and did not query this assertion. Mr Coll continued, saying that the calculation of the speed of vehicles was unscientific and very difficult. Again the Coroner appeared to agree and made no attempt to question the argument.
Mr Beatty finished his evidence and the Coroner looked towards me. I again rose to my feet and said that I would like to question comprehensively Mr Coll on his evidence and I would like to do so with the use of the scale map and the models which Mr Coll had approved. The Coroner wouldn’t agree and said that he had already anticipated the questions which I might want to ask and had already asked them of Mr Coll. He went on to say that my own accident investigator now agreed with Mr Coll’s conclusions. I told him that Mr McLoughlin’s change of mind was a matter to be settled elsewhere and it was strange that he held the same views as me for several years before he changed his Report a matter of weeks before the case in the High Court. I didn’t explain further. The Coroner said that the case had already been settled in the High Court and Mr Carson had been compensated. I wasn’t sure which of the cases he was referring to so I said that Carson’s case did not go before the Court and was settled outside for a lesser amount. I did not elaborate but I understood he accepted a smaller amount because of the ill-fitted tyres and the question of speed.
The Coroner then asked me what additional questions I might want to ask of Mr Coll and asked me to give examples. I told him that his Reports were full of unscientific evidence and I wanted to question him on all of the contents. He again asked for an example. I had about 10 pages of questions but it wasn’t hard to pick one to make my point.
I told him that I wished to know why he appears to have altered the evidence to match his conclusion.
There was a loud gasp around the courtroom. The coroner asked me if I was alleging that Mr Coll had forged evidence. I replied that was exactly what I was alleging. Mr Coll said that it was a “very, very, very” serious allegation and the Coroner agreed. I went on to say that I had come to the Court to find justice for my brother but I was being prevented from doing so. The Coroner said that it was a very serious allegation and told me to put my allegations in writing to the Ombudsman. I told him that the Ombudsman did not deal with complaints against Forensic Officers and that I would not be writing to him. He then said that I should write to the “Forensic people” and put my allegations to them. I replied that I had done that once and had written to the Secretary of State responsible and had got a reply from Mr Coll’s boss that he was a professional and experienced investigator. I did not intend to write again.
I went on to say that for over 5 years I had worked my way through all the Justice Agencies to try and have the case resolved. I said that my family knew the truth about the case and had seen the evidence. I said that I was there to assist the Court in coming to a fair conclusion but I wasn’t being given a chance. It was my experience that there was a kind of accident investigator masonic which operates to support each other and it had been my intention to break that circle of mutual support. I told him that I was in the Court to assist the Coroner in establishing how and why my brother died. I told him that there was little point of me being in his Court if I couldn’t question witnesses.
The coroner said that he would write the letter regarding the allegation I had made. He said that he would adjourn the case and would issue a certificate of death. He adjourned the case.
I packed up the suitcase, explained to my family, who had difficulty hearing the proceedings what had happened, and I firmed up on an idea that had been gestating.
I resolved to write a book.
Over the coming months I wrote a detailed account of all the corruption, falsehoods, collusion and incompetence I experienced in the Justice System since I set out to find Justice for my dead brother’s family and friends. What I found continues to shock me. I had used pseudonyms in the book in the hope that those involved would realise that their criminal behaviour would be fully exposed if they didn’t come to their senses. It made no difference because mostly they continued to feel protected and dug ever deeper holes in the mire they created. The book led to this blog where the real names have been used.
The book “Junk Justice” related events up until the adjournment of the Coroner’s Court described above on 19th May 2009.
This blog has been a running commentary of the details of events from that to the present day and beyond and the subsequent book will be a mirror of this blog and any update.
The next post will continue with the fallout from the adjournment of the case at the Coroner’s Court.