New inquest into 'MR death' teen
A new inquest for a schoolboy whose death has allegedly been linked to a combined measles and rubella vaccination could be delayed for five months, a court has heard.
The second probe into the death of 15-year-old Christopher Coulter from Hillsborough, Co Down has been ordered by Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin.
It was due to start this month but late legal issues prevented it proceeding as scheduled.
At a preliminary hearing in Belfast, coroner Suzanne Anderson said court availability issues may result in the start date now being put back to next April.
Christopher was found dead in his bed in December 1994 - ten days after he received the MR jab. He died from asphyxia brought on by a seizure.
His family, who insist the schoolboy was healthy and had no history of epilepsy, claim the vaccine played a part in his death.
At the original inquest in 1995, the MR vaccine was ruled out as a potential cause.
The MR vaccination was subsequently replaced by the combined MMR jab, which provides immunisation against measles, mumps and rubella.
A range of experts are set to be called by the family and the Public Health Agency during the inquest.
One specialist witness is Massachusetts-based Dr Marcel Kinsbourne, who previously reviewed the case and claimed that on the balance of probabilities the vaccine did play a role.
Dr Kinsbourne had been due to appear at the inquest this month but later said other commitments would mean he could only have given evidence via video link.
Ms Anderson said it would be preferable if the expert could attend in person when the probe, which is set to last at least a week, does eventually get under way.
Eugene McKenna, representing the family, said they would ideally like him to be there in person.
"If that can't be facilitated then we have the fall back position of video link," he said.
"From the family's perspective they would prefer to have him here."
Ms Anderson replied: "From everyone's perspective it's better to have him here."
But noting that some witnesses may have to give evidence via video link, Ms Anderson said only one court within the Coroner's Court building at Old Town Hall would be suitable.
She said availability in that court - No 1 - was very limited in the first three months of next year.
"We may even be looking at April," she said.
"Unfortunately that is five months away but we may be stuck with that position."
During the short hearing, Ms Anderson also said she would undertake to obtain all GP and medical notes relating to Christopher after being informed that some documents may not yet have been forwarded to the inquest.
Mr McKenna also indicated that he would be giving the coroner a submission requesting that the case be heard in front of a jury, stressing that the case related to an important issue of public safety.
Tom Fitzpatrick, representing the Public Health Agency, said it was his initial position that he did not think it was a jury case, but he said he would wait to consider Mr McKenna's submission before making a more substantive response.