Police 'missed fire victim's body'
Published 29/07/2010 | 00:00
Police failed to locate the body of a drunk man who died in a fire which swept through a disused school in north Belfast, an inquest has heard.
It was not until 12 hours later that a couple accidentally stumbled on Stephen Gallagher, 39, lying on the ground amid the remains of the blackened building.
Officers had been told about a man the previous day by children but called off their search because of darkness and dangers accessing the property, Belfast Coroner's Court was told.
Coroner John Leckey told the Belfast inquest: "It is quite dreadful to think that the person may have been alive and left to lie where he was overnight."
Eight-year-old children had come across the unemployed butcher on September 1 last year at the derelict Deaf and Blind School in Jordanstown and parents reported it to police. A helicopter was used as part of the search, but officers failed to locate the body.
Mr Gallagher, from Greymount Parade, Belfast, had called the emergency services a few days earlier on his mobile phone but was unable to tell them where he was. Police believe he died on August 28.
Mr Leckey added: "I think this is so serious that the Chief Constable (Matt Baggott) should be aware of it and it is certainly a matter I intend to refer to the Police Ombudsman (Al Hutchinson). It beggars belief that the police officers concerned did not have the wit to speak to the children concerned."
The coroner ruled that Mr Gallagher was poisoned from smoke inhalation while severely intoxicated.
Police said they received the initial report on September 1 from a member of the public whom the children had approached and told about the body. The children did not remain in the area but their parents later made themselves known to officers.
Police sources said the member of the public did not know the children and could not help police identify them. They said they had no more details about the location of the body and a further investigation - including a specialist search team - was arranged for the following morning in daylight. But by that time further information was received that a body had been found.