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Still too much ambiguity around how bike fan James died in 2008, says coroner

By Angela Rainey

Published 16/04/2016

James McGauran
James McGauran
Castle Archdale in Co Fermanagh

Questions still remain over the death of "shy, gentle and quiet" west Belfast man who died from unexplained head injuries sustained at a caravan park in 2008.

The final hearing of the inquest into the death of James Patrick McGauran (41), from Kestral Grange in Dunmurry, found that the motorcycle racing fan died as a result of pneumonia and a fractured skull a day after he was found lying at Castle Archdale caravan park in Irvinestown in May 2008 following a trip to the North West 200.

No one has ever faced charges over his death despite a pathologist's report stating Mr McGauran had sustained injuries such as a black eye, bruising to his lips, five fractured ribs and other bruising, and that some of the injuries were "consistent with having been punched".

He was found after 16 hours unconscious under a sleeping bag by resident Colin Rea-Preston. Mr Rea-Preston comforted him until paramedics arrived to take him to the Erne Hospital.

At the inquest yesterday coroner Brian Sherrard said there "was too much ambiguity" as to what had happened that night, as two of his acquaintances had persistently changed their witness statements.

He extended his condolences to the McGauran family.

Mr Sherrard added that "the failure of his acquaintances to call for assistance sooner was deeply lamentable".

Witness Robert McCracken (64), from Doagh Road, Newtownabbey, who changed his statement four times after the incident, was subsequently convicted of perverting the course of justice.

Speaking at an earlier inquest hearing in November last year pathologist Dr Peter Ingram said Mr McGauran could have been punched and fallen, could have fallen himself and sustained the injuries, or could have been struck with an object such as a brick.

Although it is unclear as to what caused his injuries, the acquaintances he had been staying with at the time reported "a bit of bother" had broken out between Mr McGauran and fellow biker Robert Kempton, who admitted to swinging a punch as a "knee-jerk reaction".

Mr Kempton had also helped wipe Mr McGauran's face, and brought him a sleeping bag.

The inquest found that had an ambulance been called sooner it is likely Mr McGauran would have survived.

At the time of his death eight years ago his family requested that the Public Prosecution Service review its position to not bring charges, and at one stage initiated an independent pathology report in order to bring possible prosecutions forward.

Speaking yesterday outside the hearing, Mr McGauran's sister, Ann McGauran, said that although his untimely death was a tragedy, she was "appreciative to have gained clarity and to have access to due process to have a better understanding of what happened".

She added that she was grateful to the coroner for "his sensitive handling of what was a difficult case".

London-based journalist Ms McGauran said that although saddened by her brother's death, she felt she'd rather people remember him for the light he brought to others' lives.

"James was quite quiet and sensitive but had a lovely smile that would light up a room," she said.

"He was a gentle person who was sensitive and caring, he was very perceptive and was the type of person who could sense something was wrong with you because he could feel it.

"He was trusting and would have gone to the aid of anyone who needed it, he was always helping others, supporting people who needed it.

"He was shy but people remember him as being an excellent listener, someone who didn't judge others but instead tried to help by empathising with them.

"James loved nature and walking in the Mourne Mountains, he loved dogs and enjoyed being outdoors surrounded by the beauty of nature.

"He was someone who had simple tastes, the simple things pleased him."

A former pupil of De La Salle in west Belfast and a keen mechanic, Mr McGauran had worked as a driving instructor and had a passion for dogs, photography and music.

He loved motorcycles, getting his first bike in his 20s, and could turn his hand to fixing anything mechanical with precision, proven by his former job as an optical technician.

Ms McGauran added: "I would like to thank Mr Preston for stopping to help my brother.

"He is what I would describe as a very decent person who did what a good citizen would do.

"Mr Preston saw James lying in the bushes and went to help.

"He called for an ambulance and tried to help James until the paramedics came, and we are so grateful for his help."

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