Belfast Telegraph

My sister died in shop doorway in Belfast's busiest street

By Claire McNeilly

The heartbroken sister of a troubled homeless woman who died in a doorway on Northern Ireland's busiest street has said no human life should ever end like that.

Catherine Anne Margaret Kenny's body was discovered at a derelict shop on Belfast's Royal Avenue shortly after 9am on March 19, 2016.

The 32-year-old mother-of-one, who suffered psychiatric and addiction problems, was hospitalised three times that month before she passed away due to an alcohol and drugs overdose.

Following an inquest into her death yesterday, her older sister Lee-Maria Hughes said the system is at fault for what happened to the woman who meant everything to her.

She also told of her attempts to get Miss Kenny - one of five homeless people found dead in Belfast city centre in just seven weeks last year - into rehab days before she died.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Hughes, who has an eight-year-old son Jack with transport manager husband Darren (39), said she will never get over losing her.

"It's the day that nearly ended my world," she said. "Second to my wee boy, she was my life and she should never ever have died on the streets of Belfast."

Mrs Hughes, a plumbing industry worker, said that there is no proper mechanism in Northern Ireland to deal with people suffering mental health issues.

"Catherine used alcohol and drugs to escape her thoughts, and that frightens me so much," she said. "On March 15 last year, I spent hours on the phone before a rehabilitation unit told me they could only see Catherine four weeks later. I was horrified.

"Even then, she was only going to get an interview to see if she was ready to accept the help. She died four days later.

"If my sister had had access to residential rehab, she would still be here today."

She added: "I was always there for her. Words can't describe how much I miss her."

Dr Marjorie Turner, who performed the post mortem, told the inquest that Catherine died from a combination of alcohol and a legal high called MDMB-CHMICA, also known as Sky High.

Forensic scientist Dr Siobhan Kirk said that MDMB-CHMICA was responsible for 13 deaths and 23 non-fatal intoxications in Europe between December 2014 and May 2016.

Mrs Hughes said Catherine's mental health issues began when she was 16 or 17.

She told the inquest: "I always had a tiny bit of hope that some day she would come to believe in herself and finally beat not only her demons but her addiction to alcohol and drugs. Death was unfortunately her fate.

"The outcome was very evident to the family when she became homeless in April 2015. We lost her to the streets. Her mind tortured her and she used alcohol and drugs to escape. For me that is very sad.

"Catherine did need mental health intervention, although I have now learnt that she did get that on many occasions. It was too late to try to sort her addictions. She had gone too far for that.

"Do I believe Catherine's death was preventable? Absolutely. Do I believe residential rehab could have saved her life? Absolutely.

"Could I get her into a rehab centre on March 15, 2016? No I couldn't."

Coroner Joe McCrisken said there are still insufficient rehabilitation services in Belfast.

"Catherine was a member of our community. It seems to me that more could have been done by those who have a responsibility to do so on our behalf," he added.

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