THE family of a Donegal man murdered in 2012 say they are “shocked” to learn that An Garda Síochána is continuing to investigate his death.
Seamus Doherty’s family was told two years ago that the case was closed and barrister Conan Fegan told a pre-inquest hearing at Letterkenny courthouse on Wednesday that they have not heard from gardai since.
Senior Counsel for the State, Miriam Reilly, assured the family however that an investigation into Mr Doherty’s murder remained “open and live”.
An inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of 67-year-old Mr Doherty has been pencilled in for “September or October” and is expected to last at least three days.
It will hear from at least 14 witnesses, the majority of them members of An Garda Síochána.
Seamus Doherty was found dead at his home in Drumnacoo, Churchill, in June 2012. The case was initially treated as a sudden death before being escalated to a murder investigation.
Samuel James Clarke from Magherennan, Raphoe, was charged with killing Mr Doherty however the allegation was withdrawn shortly before he was to go on trial at Dublin’s Central Criminal Court.
Mr Doherty’s family say they have grave concerns over the An Garda’s response on the night his body was discovered. Among other things, they say crucial evidence may have been lost due to a mishandling of the crime scene.
Barrister Conan Fegan confirmed to coroner Dr Denis McCauley on Wednesday that the State would be the “target” of submissions he intended to make to the inquest.
Ms Reilly pointed out that an investigation into Seamus Doherty’s death remained live and that there may have to be discussions around whether certain documents held by An Garda Síochána can be disclosed or if they are privileged.
Mr Fegan said it was news to the family that the case remained open as it was their understanding it had been shelved two years ago when the case against Samuel James Clarke collapsed.
He said that even if the case did remain live as was being claimed, it could not be a barrier to documents being handed over.
“The family say they are very surprised to hear this is a live investigation as following the nolle prosequi in February 2017 they were told by senior counsel that that was the end of the case. They are happy but very surprised to hear this.
“Obviously Section 25 of the Act allows gardai to say this is a live investigation and that nothing should jeopardise a potential prosecution. But neither can that be used to hide behind us getting these documents,” said the barrister.
Mr Fegan made an application to widen the list of people he intends to take depositions from, many of them gardai who visited the scene on the night Mr Doherty’s body was found.
Dr McCauley said that while he was content to allow depositions from some of the witnesses, he did not see the need to take statements from them all. He said that he was happy to look at what he described as the “de-escalation and re-escalation” of the status of the case from a sudden death to a murder.
Beyond that though and he would begin to feel “uncomfortable”, Dr McCauley said.
“You can see I am getting a little bit tetchy the further this thing goes out.
“I would not do this in a normal inquest, I would get the decision makers in and here I find myself expanding and expanding. I am very uncomfortable and I am feeling this is not how I run an inquest.”
A number of dates for inquest were discussed and both legal teams agreed that it should go ahead in September or October with three days set aside for submissions.