The devastated family of a man who was found dead in his own home have angrily criticised police who failed to respond to a desperate 999 call made while he was being burgled.
James ‘Seamus’ McClory (59) was found slumped in the bathroom of his home at Twinbrook in west Belfast in June 1998.
Yesterday an inquest heard his death may have been linked to a series of aggravated burglaries nearby.
Mr McClory’s Juniper Way house was one of three which were burgled during the early hours of June 20.
The inquest — which took place more than 11 years after Mr McClory died —was played a tape of a 999 call made by the deceased, in which he is heard to say: “Police, please, they have attacked my home”.
However the call was not logged in the police call handling system — because, the inquest heard, an operator thought it was a duplicate call relating to an earlier report at a nearby address.
Two police officers were later disciplined for neglect of duty.
Speaking after the inquest, Mr McClory’s son, Seamus, said the family held the police service responsible for his death.
“They caused my father’s death,” he said. “The first 20 or 30 minutes in any heart attack is crucial — your survival is dependent on that first half hour of response.
“They made one blunder after another. The police is responsible for protecting the community — if the public makes a 999 call they think they’re going to get a response.
“What do they mean by a priority call — do you have to have your head lying in the middle of the street for it to be a priority?”
The family also said they had not been aware that a man had already been convicted after pleading guilty to attempting to rob and assault Mr McClory.
Seamus McClory said they only learned of the conviction yesterday morning.
The family’s legal representative, Gerry Hyland, said they had to fight for access to police records of the incident.
“They had to fight for access to the crime file and even access to the 999 call,” he said. “It was only in recent months that the family got access to the tape recording.
“It is also disappointing that a number of witnesses did not attend, particularly the police officer who took the call. The family has lost an opportunity to question them.”
The inquest heard that three houses at Juniper Way had been broken into during the early hours of June 20, 1998.
Mr McClory had been attacked and a knife found near the deceased’s body had been stolen from another house.
The court heard that a 999 call from Mr McClory had been received at Belfast Regional Control centre at 4.09am.
However another operator was said to have replied: “If that’s about the man attacked at Juniper Way, it’s already in the system.”
The court heard that Mr McClory’s call was subsequently not logged, but it was later discovered that the “same call” actually related to a second address at Juniper Way.
As a result no police officers attended Mr McClory’s address.
The inquest heard it was normal practice that every 999 call should be logged in instances of multiple reports.
The deceased was not discovered until 11am on June 22, when his wife returned from visiting relatives and discovered his remains.
Mr McClory had suffered minor wounds after being attacked, but a medical expert, Dr John Press, told the inquest these alone were not sufficient to have caused his death.
Dr Press said Mr McClory had a history of angina and high blood pressure, and that, as a result of the break-in, his blood pressure would have been raised and he would have experienced a severe irregularity of his heartbeat.
He said it was uncertain whether the deceased had collapsed immediately after the attack, but added that it was “unlikely” he would have been able to make a second 999 call after collapsing.
Initially it was not suspected that Mr McClory had been the victim of a burglary.
Family members said they only realised after learning that other homes in the area had been broken into over the weekend of Mr McClory’s death.
Coroner Suzanne Anderson ruled Mr McClory had died of a coronary atheroma “probably brought on by the assault”.
She said that it was “regrettable” that it had taken so long for an inquest to be heard, adding that was “a terrible shock, particularly to find out the circumstances of his death”.
A PSNI spokesman said: “In 1998 the then chief constable referred this incident to the International Commission for Police Complaints. We will await the findings of the coroner’s inquest.”