Blow from RUC baton led to death, expert says
A medical expert at a jury inquest in Belfast Coroner’s Court said he was in “no real doubt” that a blow to the neck led to the death of a Catholic father-of-one allegedly beaten by an RUC riot squad.
New Jersey-born John Hemsworth (39) died six months after he was beaten up off Springfield Road on July 7 1997 as rioting took place nearby.
Mr Hemsworth was discharged from hospital with a broken jaw after the attack but later complained of headaches and pins and needles. He was admitted to hospital on December 27 and died on New Year’s Day of a stroke.
Professor Derek Pounder, an expert in forensic medicine at the University of Dundee, told the jury there was “no real doubt” that an injury just below the right jaw led to death.
He said the blow, inflicted by a baton or stick, had injured an artery leading to a blood clot and fatal stroke.
His conclusion was read to the jury: “Given all the factors, it is in my view highly likely that the trauma was the sole direct underlying cause of death.”
Under questioning by Stephen Ritchie, counsel for the police service, Prof Pounder said he did not find it difficult to reach his conclusion. “We have no evidence of medical issues. We have evidence of trauma, albeit that the period of time was long. That’s unusual but it’s not unheard of.
“There is no real doubt in my mind that the trauma has led to the death, albeit that it’s an unusual chain of events.”
He said the injury was “a forensic classic”.
“It’s a textbook picture of a blow from a stick-like object. Whether a baton or a stick, I couldn't say.”
Mr Ritchie asked Mr Hemsworth’s father Michael why his son did not say the RUC had injured him when he attended hospital.
Mr Hemsworth senior said: “May I say it was the experience of a lot of people in those days that you didn’t report an assault by police when you went into hospital because it meant you would be arrested for riotous behaviour.”
His son was not lucid while in hospital, Mr Hemsworth said. “He kept repeating, “Dad, I didn’t do anything.” I always brought up my children to be well-behaved and to walk away from trouble.”
He visited his son when he was admitted to hospital after suffering a stroke on December 27.
“I recall he asked me to put my arms around his head and squeeze hard to relieve the pain.”
He denied that the family had failed to co-operate with an investigation by the Independent Commission for Police Complaints.