Belfast Telegraph

Fury over golf ball in dead gardener's throat

Coroner blasts 'interference' with death probe

By Georgina O'Halloran

It's the mystery of who placed a golf ball in the throat of a gardener after his death -- and why.

A garda investigation is continuing into the incident, more than a year after Kevin O'Doherty died, but it has so far failed to identify the culprit.

Outraged coroner Dr Brian Farrell yesterday described the act of putting the golf ball in Mr O'Doherty's throat as an "unconscionable and malicious intrusion into a death investigation".

This had resulted in great upset to the man's family, Dr Farrell said.

Mr O'Doherty (48), of Whitethorn Lodge, Castleside, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, died suddenly on the afternoon of January 27, 2010.

A post mortem at St James's Hospital two days later found that Mr O'Doherty, who had a history of high blood pressure, died of abnormal heart rhythm due to heart disease.

The body was then removed to an undertaker's mortuary, where at the start of the embalming process a golf ball was found at the back of Mr O'Doherty's throat.

An inquest at Dublin City Coroner's Court heard that Joe Cronin, who was embalming the body at Fanagan's Funeral Directors on Aungier Street, Dublin, found a hard cylindrical object at the back of the man's throat.

"I couldn't see it. I tried to dislodge it, which I did. I found it was a golf ball," Mr Cronin said.

However, no foreign body was present at the time of the post mortem, pathologist Dr Linda Mulligan told the inquest.

The matter was reported to gardai at Kevin Street and an investigation was launched.

Detective Inspector JJ Keane told the inquest that a suspect has not been identified. He said he was satisfied the golf ball was inserted after the first post mortem and before the embalming but no one had admitted carrying it out.

"We're satisfied the golf ball had nothing to do with the death. We interviewed all the staff at St James's Hospital and at Fanagan's and we're at a loss as to how this came about. We can only surmise it was a prank," he said.

He said there was a one-and-a-half hour "window of opportunity" between the completion of the post mortem and the arrival at Fanagan's Funeral Home.

There was no CCTV in the mortuary area of the hospital where the remains were stored.

Deputy state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis, who carried out a second post mortem, said had the golf ball been there at the time of the original post mortem it would "undoubtedly" have been found.

The garda file into the matter remains open and if further information becomes available a file will be sent to the DPP.

The coroner expressed his outrage and said there had been "gross interference with a death inquiry which has resulted in great upset to the family and concern by all the professionals involved".

"Unfortunately we haven't been able to clarify how this happened or why. If any further information becomes available a file will go to the DPP."

The coroner said that as a result of the inquest he would ask the Department of Justice to consider a further offence of interference with a coroner's inquiry.

"It's completely unacceptable," he said addressing Mr O'Doherty's father Michael, his partner of 15 years Patricia Smith and his brother.

"I can't say how much I regret putting you through this. We had a duty to investigate it. I want to tell you how much we deplore what happened," he said.

Dr Farrell concluded the cause of Mr O'Doherty's death was a cardiac event due to hypertensive heart disease and recorded a verdict of death by natural causes.

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