Belfast Telegraph

Coroner rules out suicide in Foyle River death of Derek McCombe

Inquest told of efforts to rescue joiner from Foyle

Derek McCombe died after being pulled from the River Foyle in Londonderry
Derek McCombe died after being pulled from the River Foyle in Londonderry

By Donna Deeney

A bus driver who raised the alarm seconds after a man entered the River Foyle has told an inquest how the sight of the man in the water looking at him will stay with him for the rest of his life.

Patrick McFadden contacted the emergency services moments after Derek McCombe - a 54-year-old joiner from the Waterside area of Londonderry - entered the river at the Peace Bridge.

Mr McFadden told the coroner's court he was in an out-of-service bus with the driver when he became aware that someone had entered the water.

Mr McFadden ran across the dual carriageway but by the time he reached the Peace Bridge, Mr McCombe was "too far away" for him to help. He then tracked Mr McCombe from the quay so he could direct Foyle Search and Rescue, which arrived minutes later.

Mr McFadden said: "He was in the water looking up. I tried to get to him but I couldn't reach. But I was determined I wasn't going to let him out of my sight so followed him along the quay towards the Foyle Bridge.

"It was a sight that will stay with me for the rest of my life - the person looked up at me from the water."

Mr McFadden was able to direct rescue volunteers who recovered Mr McCombe from the water and began CPR until he was transferred to an ambulance.

Mr McCombe was pronounced dead on January 29, 2015, at Altnagelvin Hospital after all attempts to resuscitate him failed.

The inquest heard Mr McCombe, who had suffered from depression, had been removed from the Peace Bridge "in an agitated state" six days before his death. On January 23, Mr McCombe was returned to his home at Clooney Park Gardens by a police officer after concerned members of the public called them.

Mr McCombe's partner of 30 years, Majella Kelly, told the court that on the evening of the 23rd, she rang the Mental Health Team at Bridge House who were caring for him because she was concerned about him. She said she left a message with a receptionist who assured her someone would contact her, but no one did.

In her evidence, Ms Kelly said two days later she rang the Out of Hours GP service and was given an appointment to see an emergency doctor. Mr McCombe was asked if he was feeling suicidal and said "no".

It was agreed by the doctor, Mr McCombe and Ms Kelly it was not a "crisis" situation and contacting Bridge House the following morning was the best course of action.

Ms Kelly said she "felt gutted" her partner had not been seen by a mental health specialist.

Mr McCombe and Ms Kelly then met with his social worker at Bridge House who also asked Mr McCombe if he had suicidal feelings, but again the answer was "no".

Ms Kelly said on the morning Mr McCombe died, he told her he was going for a walk and would be back at 10.30am.

Ms Kelly said she was not concerned for his safety because "he was feeling very peaceful, he seemed fine", but when he failed to return home by 10.45am, she went out to look for him.

When she returned home a short time later, a police officer was there and told her Mr McCombe had been recovered from the Foyle and was in hospital.

The court also heard from Mr McCombe's psychiatrist, his GP and his mental health social worker, who denied their assessments had solely relied on Mr McCombe telling them he wasn't suicidal.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson said she needed to be "satisfied beyond reasonable doubt" that Mr McCombe intended to take his own life before she could find the cause of death as suicide. But she said she had "difficulty" in reaching that conclusion.

Instead, she said, there was "no evidence he jumped rather than accidentally fell" and that there was evidence he had no plans to take his own life; he always "denied he wanted to take his own life".

Speaking after, Mr McCombe's sister Sylvia said she was "disappointed" with the findings.

"We asked for this inquest because we feel there are gaps in the mental health service provision and we wanted to highlight those so that maybe another family could be spared our grief."

Belfast Telegraph

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