A YOUNG Cork woman whose father was shot dead is to seek a meeting with the Minister for Justice to call for rights for victims’s families.
Deirdre Coakley from Macroom is planning to write to the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, to request a meeting with her.
It follows a letter she wrote to the minister last October, just days after a court hearing was told that the man who was accused of shooting her father Derry near Macroom town in October 2018 had died before entering a plea in the case.
The late Gerard Lynch (68) from Curraheen, Raleigh North, Macroom, had been charged with the murder of the 60-year-old plant hire contractor at Curraheen, Raleigh North, between October 23 and October 24, 2018.
A nolle prosequi was entered in the case last October when he died from a terminal illness before the case came to trial.
Deirdre, aged 22, said she now wants to ensure her experience of the criminal justice system will help bring changes for other families.
She is currently in her final year of college and said she will then be focusing on campaigning for changes for families like her own.
She said: “The pain that was caused will never be healed. I am doing this for my dad. I don’t want other families to go through these horrendous feelings.”
She told The Echo: “I want families to be able to give a victim impact statement even if the case is closed.”
She had written a victim impact statement ahead of the trial she expected following her father’s death but she did not get the chance to read it because of the nolle prosequi being entered.
She said: “It would give a family the chance to feel that they are being listened to and it would give an insight into the impact the crime has left on them.”
She added: “Mine is still there on my computer.”
She believes that a victim impact statement helps a family to give people a clear picture of who their loved one was before they became a statistic because of how they died. She is very thankful to Support After Crime Services in Cork for helping her to finalise her own victim impact statement, adding that she had just two days to write it.
She recalls of her father: “Dad thought me how to drive. He had such patience.”
She also wants an accused person, or their counsel, to be required to provide medical records to gardaí if requested to do so, and believes that investigation files on cases should be accessible to families, particularly in situations where both the victim and the accused have died, to help bring closure to a family.
Deirdre explains that because the case did not go to trial, she will never know exactly what happened to lead to her father being shot.
She is also concerned about the length of time it takes for a case to come to trial, pointing out that the nolle prosequi in the case about her father’s death came two years after the shooting.
The Business Information Systems final year student is also concerned about the length of time it takes for cases to come to inquest, and says she is still waiting for the conclusion of her father’s inquest. The inquest was opened in April 2019, during which medical evidence was heard.
The inquest was told Mr Coakley bled to death after he was shot in the left arm when dumping building rubble at a site at Curraheen, Raleigh North.
Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster told the inquest that Mr Coakley died from haemorrhage and shock due to a single gunshot wound to the arm. The inquest was then adjourned until criminal proceedings concluded and has not since been reopened.
Deirdre said: “I am still waiting for the full inquest. It is another thing to get through.”
She recalls the opening of the inquest as “horrendous”, likening hearing her father’s injuries being listed out “like a shopping list”.
She recalls having to wait for more than two days to be able to see her father’s body after his death and is still tormented by the memory of his body having to remain at the scene of the shooting for several hours.
A recent report published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, called Left Out In The Cold, was critical of the coronial process in Ireland and called for families to be placed at the centre of the process.
It raised concerns about the lack of dedicated offices for coroners, and locations for inquests.
It said: “Required to live in the district to which they are appointed, coroners remain in post until they reach the age of 70.
“Except for Dublin and Cork, coroners do not have dedicated offices and in most circumstances inquests are held in public buildings, halls or hotels.”
The report outlined that not all families interviewed as part of the research were aware when they were attending their loved one’s inquest that they could have legal representation at the hearing.
The report also called for legal aid and counselling to be made available to the bereaved.
This was welcomed by Deirdre Coakley who said that the accused are often granted free legal aid, while victims or victims’s families have no such access.
She elaborates: “I never got the option of counselling with somebody trained in dealing with homicide events.
“Something like this consumes you — losing such a huge figure in your life. As an only child, your parents are huge to you.”
The report from the ICCL has identified 52 recommendations, under a number of umbrella categories.
In relation to families, the report recommends that there should be a consultation with bereaved families and a Charter for the Bereaved established which would clearly address their needs and rights.
It also recommends the appointment of a Chief State Coroner and full-time Senior Coroners in each region; all coroners should have legal training and experience as a legal professional, and counselling to be made available to all staff, and they should be trained in trauma-informed practice.
The report has identified 52 recommendations, under a number of umbrella categories.
Other recommendations include:
Establish maximum acceptable time lapses at all stages, including for medical examinations, provision of information, and holding of inquests.
The needs of families should be anticipated and provided for.
Recommendations by juries should be followed up. There should be follow-up procedures where systemic failings are identified.
Jury selection should be randomised.
Director of the Cork-based Support After Crime Services, Sally Hanlon, welcomed the report and says there is a need to tighten the system when it comes to victims, including families affected by homicides.
She explains: “For people who are new to this, there is a lack of understanding about how the process works.
“Some people think that a murder case will be done in three or four months but it could take two years.
“And dates for court hearings can change too for example.”
She also said simple language is needed to help people understand the process better, given that most victims have never been involved in the criminal justice process before.