Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Ambulance call delay questioned

Police say mystery surrounds a lengthy delay between the discovery of a west Belfast man who died from a drug overdose and the phoning for an ambulance

Mystery surrounds a lengthy delay between the discovery of a west Belfast man who died from a drug overdose and the phoning for an ambulance, a court has heard.

Police told a coroner they had been unable to establish what exactly had happened in the hour-plus period after Laurence Donnelly, 30, was found unresponsive by his girlfriend.

By the time paramedics arrived at the north Belfast flat where the unemployed forklift truck driver had injected a fatal dose of heroin he was already dead.

Angela Clarke, who had been going out with Mr Donnelly when he died last August at the Kinnaird Terrace property where she lived, had been scheduled to give evidence at his inquest at Belfast coroner's court today but did not appear.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident last year she told police she and Mr Donnelly had both taken heroin in the flat around 5pm on the day, with him injecting the substance while she had smoked it.

She claimed he had bought the drugs hours earlier.

Ms Clarke told investigating officers that she had left the property around 9.30pm to go to a nearby convenience store, at which point Mr Donnelly was sitting on the floor semi-conscious and mumbling - a state she attributed to his drug high.

When she returned around 10pm she said Mr Donnelly remained in the same position but was cold, had foam or vomit around his mouth and was a "funny colour".

However, coroner Suzanne Anderson heard that it was not until 11.21pm that an ambulance was called.

Ms Clarke told police that upon finding Mr Donnelly she had panicked and gone to find his friend Louise Maloney.

Ms Maloney, who had been with the pair earlier and had also taken heroin on the day, said Ms Clarke bumped into her by "fluke" outside a shop on the New Lodge Road only a short time before the ambulance was ultimately called.

She told the court that Ms Clarke was very distressed when she encountered her.

"She hugged me and was saying 'he's lying there, he's dead, he's dead'."

Ms Maloney said she immediately grabbed Ms Clarke by the hand and ran "five minutes" to the flat, where she then told her to phone an ambulance.

The witness said she then tried to perform CPR.

"I didn't want to believe he was dead so I went over and I tried to resuscitate him," she said.

Ms Maloney questioned why an ambulance had not been called earlier.

"I couldn't understand, and I still can't understand, if she (Ms Clarke) seen him a funny colour and cold and whatever he was doing, why didn't she phone an ambulance then?," she said.

"That's what does my head in."

Earlier Constable Campbell Beers told the court that the period between Ms Clarke finding Mr Donnelly unresponsive and the 999 call remained "unaccounted" for.

He said Ms Maloney had been unable to be specific with timings in her account due to effect of the heroin she had taken.

"She had absolutely no idea of timings because of the condition she was in from using the drug herself," he explained.

The officer said despite extensive investigation, no significant witnesses other than Ms Maloney had been prepared to give evidence to police.

He said he had "no luck at all" trying to speak to Ms Clarke.

The constable also attempted to trace the senders of nine text messages found in Mr Donnelly's phone over the period around his death all of which, he said, appeared to be asking for drugs.

Mr Beers said both Ms Maloney and Ms Clarke had been cautioned by officers for use of a class A drug.

He said Ms Clarke had further been cautioned on a theft offence after it emerged she was still in possession of Mr Donnelly's phone the day after the death. The officer said she had explained this by saying the phone had contained sentimental pictures of the two pictured together.

Mr Beers said prosecutors decided to take no further action against either woman.

Detective Constable Donna Smith, who interviewed Ms Clarke in the wake of the fatal episode, said her initial recollections had been clouded by drug use.

"She appeared to be all over the place," she said.

The officer said Ms Clarke had told her that while she knew Mr Donnelly was a heroin user, the night he died was the first time she had seen him use a needle to administer it.

The detective said while there was drug paraphernalia in the flat, including spoon, lighter and syringe, there was no evidence of any drugs, or the needle used by Mr Donnelly.

"In my opinion it would look as if the drugs had either been totally consumed or had been removed," she added.

Although raised in west Belfast by his grandparents, at the time of his death Mr Donnelly had been living in a housing association flat in Great Victoria Street in the city centre.

Mr Donnelly's mother Brenda McKee told the court her son had never had a problem with drugs until the break-up of a serious relationship.

But she insisted he had overcome those issues in period prior to his death. She last saw him two weeks before he died as he prepared to go away with some friends.

"He was looking forward to going on holiday," she said.

Mark Smith, a probation officer who worked with Mr Donnelly, also said while his past had been "chaotic" there had been no immediate concerns that he had a drug problem at the time of his death.

State pathologist Dr Jack Crane, who conducted the post mortem exam, concluded that Mr Donnelly would have been alive for a number of hours after taking the heroin, likely in a state of unconsciousness.

He said a number of other drugs were found in his system including traces of cannabis and cocaine and prescribed diazepam.

Ms Anderson recorded the cause of death as poisoning by heroin.

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