Family of Alan Drennan who died in Ibiza still searching for answers
A holiday turned to tragedy when 21-year-old Newtownabbey man Alan Drennan died in controversial circumstances hours after arriving in Ibiza. Here, his heartbroken father, Alan, who still weeps every day for his lost son, says friends and family will today mark the first anniversary of the death by dedicating a bench and releasing lanterns in his memory.
The heartbroken family of young Newtownabbey man Alan Drennan, who died a year ago today in controversial circumstances in Ibiza, are to hold a special memorial service this morning in tribute to their son, followed by a poignant lantern release tonight.
The 21-year-old's parents, Alan (56) and Verona (53), and his brothers, Lee (24) and 16-year-old Karl, will be joined by other family members and friends as they mark the first anniversary of Alan's death by dedicating three benches at the shore in Jordanstown.
Tonight, many who knew the well-loved young man are expected to gather again on the shorefront to release lanterns in tribute to him. Two trees are also to be planted in the area in tribute to the young mechanic.
A year on, it remains unclear how Alan died. Last night, his father revealed that an independent international organisation that specialises in investigating cases of police brutality abroad was looking into the circumstances.
Alan, a fun-loving, kind young man who was passionate about music, was found dead in his hotel room in Ibiza less than 24 hours after arriving there for a holiday.
Friends alleged that he was beaten by police when he was arrested on arrival following an incident on the flight to the Spanish island.
Despite investigations by local police and the PSNI, and two post-mortems in Spain and Dublin, the exact cause of death remains unknown.
Spanish police denied allegations of brutality, but a post-mortem in the Republic confirmed Alan had suffered injuries to his head.
While he welcomed the chance of an investigation, Alan's devastated dad said last night that nothing would bring his beloved son back.
The distraught father added that not a day had gone by in the past year without him shedding a tear.
He explained that the entire family were still struggling to find a way to carry on without Alan, and that the young man's mother had found the loss of her son unbearable.
"It has been a terrible year," Alan said. "You don't realise how precious something is until you lose it. I wouldn't wish what we are going through on anyone.
"Every single day, all you think about is that he is not here, that he is not with you. We miss him so much. It was my birthday in May, and it was the worst day of my life. I cried my heart out.
"Verona is in a terrible way, God love her. She just can't get her head around it at all. It is a terrible thing to be lying in bed at night listening to your wife crying, and yet there is nothing that you can do about it.
"I know that people say that time is a healer, but it isn't helping us. I shed a tear for Alan every single day and miss him every single day."
Around 600 mourners packed St Dorothea's Parish Church for Alan's funeral, including hundreds of friends of the young man. The turnout was testament to the regard in which he was held.
During the service, a moving tribute from Alan's brother, Lee, was read out by the Rev Nigel Kirkpatrick. It included the following heartfelt and touching sentiments: "The support has been phenomenal. One of the hardest things in life is losing a loved one, especially when they have been there throughout your whole life.
"I recently heard a speech that summed up my brother's legacy perfectly to me. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat, his lungs breathe their final breath and if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit will be immortalised. That was my brother -he touched so many of you."
Alan said that, as a father, he has always believed in old-fashioned values and brought his boys up to have good manners. He added that while his son was fun-loving, he was also hugely caring and respectful.
Reinforcing the point, he told how his son had stopped to save a man's life just months before he himself died. "He was coming home from work on the Boucher Road in Belfast when he saw all these cars swerving on the West Link and he saw a man in the middle of the road," he explained.
"Alan stopped and brought him to the Royal Victoria Hospital. Apparently, he had been suffering from a diabetic fit. Alan came home and didn't tell anyone about it, but the next thing it was all over Facebook as the man appealed to try and find the Good Samaritan who helped him. That's the only reason we know about what he did that day.
"Alan was a wee raker and the joker in the pack, but he was also a sensible lad, and people would have come to him with their problems. There was no badness in him, and I am so proud of him."
Mr Drennan revealed that while his family had received the full report last December on the post-mortem carried out in Dublin, they could not bring themselves to read it.
He said that how Alan died was too much for the family to think about, although he did welcome the possibility of an investigation.
"My wife begged me not to open the results and we haven't," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "We know he had injuries, and we just can't deal with that right now.
"An independent body in England is looking at it for us, but it is not going to change anything. Hopefully, though, it will highlight what is going on over there, as no one deserves that."
Mr Drennan explained that Alan cancelled the holiday, before his friends persuaded him to change his mind at the last minute.
His 10 pals were all seated together at the front of the plane, while Alan was at the back because he had booked late.
On board the flight, the boys enjoyed a bit of a drink, and Alan was going back and forward to his friends up at the front of the plane.
His dad said: "There was a few drinks taken and a bit of craic, and when the plane landed the pilot asked everyone to remain seated and asked Alan to get off the plane on his own and to meet the police.
"They took him away and when he was released later that night he had injuries and told his friends the police had beaten him.
"We do have statements from two people he shared a taxi with who saw the state he was in. I just feel so bad that I wasn't there to protect him."
Police in Spain denied touching Alan, and the post-mortem conducted there indicated that the young man had died of organ failure.
Now, as his heartbroken parents continue to mourn his loss, they are focusing on creating a special memorial to their son.
Their local council is supplying three benches that will be dedicated today - one in memory of Alan, another, at his family's request, to be dedicated to the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust that brought his body home, and the third for anyone who has lost a loved one.
Two trees and plaques will also be planted in November - one in memory of Alan and the other in memory of Kevin Bell.
The Kevin Bell Trust was set up by Newry man Colin Bell in memory of his son, Kevin (26), who died in a hit and run in New York in 2013.
To date, it has helped bring home the bodies of more than 70 Irish people who died overseas.
Mr Drennan also revealed that Alan's brothers and his friends had so far raised £13,000 for the trust.
He added: "We wanted a bench to remember Kevin as well. We will be holding a service to dedicate the benches at 11am and a prayer service tonight at 7.30pm, when we will also be letting lanterns off in memory of Alan.
"Even doing something like that kills you because he's not there. We just miss him so much."