Inquest wrangle over witness claims
The brother of a man who died in mysterious circumstances must wait until the morning of his inquest to find out if his witness evidence will be accepted, a coroner has said.
Barry Boyd, 22, died of multiple organ failure in the Royal Victoria Hospital last March five weeks after being found gravely ill in a flat in the Cliftonville area of north Belfast.
At the time of his death, family members raised concerns that the father-of-two had been poisoned.
The police investigated but ultimately concluded the death was not suspicious.
Mr Boyd's younger brother Gary gave a statement to police in the wake of the incident and it was anticipated he would give evidence at next week's scheduled inquest.
But coroner Jim Kitson convened what he termed an "urgent" preliminary hearing in Belfast today after receiving a letter from the family's lawyers that called into question the reliability of Mr Boyd's evidence due to health issues.
At the hearing, solicitor Roy O'Neill told the coroner the family feels Mr Boyd, 20, should have been accompanied by an "appropriate adult" when he made his original statement to police.
Mr Kitson said it was part of his role to "wherever possible dispel suspicion and rumour" around a death and as Mr Boyd's statement raised what the coroner described as "very serious implications" he felt those matters needed to be explored orally with the witness during the inquest.
Mr O'Neill said he understood the coroner's concerns but stressed that Mr Boyd was suffering from a number of health issues that would undermine his ability to testify.
"It would be extremely difficult to rely on the evidence he would provide," he said.
The coroner expressed disappointment that the matter had only be raised with him days before the inquest was due to commence next Tuesday.
"It is most regrettable that this matter arises with such a short time scale with which it can be dealt with," he said.
He also noted that he had not received any medical evidence to support the family's claim.
Mr Kitson told Mr O'Neill he wanted a report on Mr Boyd's condition by Tuesday morning and would then consider the issue before the hearing started.
"I will expect some evidence from an appropriate medical or other professional in relation to Mr Boyd's health difficulties," he said.
The coroner said he could potentially rule that the statement given by Mr Boyd should not be admitted as evidence to the inquest, or alternately that the statement is read into the record, without the witness giving evidence in person.
Mr Kitson stressed that any such ruling should not be considered a disparagement of Mr Boyd, or his credibility, and would just be a reflection of the issues he is suffering with.