Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland nurse arrested in 2011 patient murder probe pleads for end to 'nightmare'


Mary and Tommy Harraghy
Mary and Tommy Harraghy
Seamus McCollum

By Lisa Smyth

A retired nurse who was questioned over the death of a profoundly disabled patient has launched a campaign to clear her name.

Mary Harraghy has spoken of the trauma of living under the shadow of a "miscarriage of justice" she said has destroyed her life.

Mrs Harraghy was arrested and questioned by detectives over the death of Seamus McCollum, who passed away in a nursing home in Randalstown, Co Antrim, in September 2011.

However, the 67-year-old mum-of-three was never charged after the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) "concluded that the test for prosecution was not met in respect of any offence".

The Nursing and Midwifery Council also deemed there was no case to answer in relation to the allegations against her.

Speaking at her home in Magherafelt, where she and her husband Tommy (65), raised their children, Mrs Harraghy fought back tears as she said: "If it wasn't for Tommy and the children, I wouldn't be here today.

"It's been horrific, it's ruined my life, I worry that the police could come back at any time; I can't live a normal life while this is hanging over me."

Mrs Harraghy was the nurse in charge at Maine Nursing Home on the night of September 11, 2011, working alongside an auxiliary nurse.

She said she carried out hourly checks on the residents throughout the night and as she began the morning routine Mrs Harraghy was alerted by her colleague that 56-year-old Mr McCollum appeared unwell.

She performed CPR on him until paramedics arrived, but her efforts were in vain. The doctor who attended to confirm Mr McCollum's death subsequently raised concerns about marks on his neck.

Mrs Harraghy said: "Those marks weren't on Seamus's neck when I went into the room. All I noticed was a wee red mark on his collar bone but I never thought anything of it.

"When we heard about the marks on his neck none of us in the home could think what could have caused them, it was a real mystery to all of us."

A post-mortem concluded that strangulation or suffocation were both possible reasons for his sudden death.

But it wasn't until six months later, and after she had already provided several witness statements to police, that Mrs Harraghy learned she was suspected of being responsible for the tragedy.

"I was doing a night shift when the manager and owner came in one morning and told me that they'd just come from a meeting with the police," she explained.

"They told me and my colleague were being suspended and that I was suspected of murdering him. I was stunned, to be honest with you."

Another six months passed before police arrested Mrs Harraghy - who at the time had been working for more than three decades with an unblemished record - on suspicion of murder.

She said: "I was coming home and when I pulled into the street it was full of armed police officers.

"I got to the house and saw they were inside searching, they seized mine and Tommy's cars, they seized our son's car, they took away our computers.

"They asked me to go the police station the next day to be arrested and questioned.

"I went the next day and gave fingerprints and a DNA sample - it was so alien."

Mrs Harraghy said she had only ever come into contact with police once before, when she offered her help after witnessing an assault.

By this stage Mrs Harraghy said she had already provided police with four statements and was advised by her solicitor to provide a "no comment" interview.

"I read out a pre-prepared witness statement and then did as my solicitor told me as there really was nothing more I could add," she said. "I had told them everything I knew but it was so frustrating."

Mrs Harraghy, who has been described by a former colleague as "an amazing nurse", faced months of uncertainty over her future until the PPS finally informed her they had directed no prosecution.

She said she believed her ordeal was finally coming to an end and she would be able to return to work.

However, the police have since said the case remains open and she is the only suspect.

She was devastated even further when a coroner ruled the cause of Mr McCollum's death was uncertain.

Her husband said: "There have been flaws with the police investigation, but no one seems to be interested in listening.

"For example, the police said Mary was the only person who had access to Seamus that night yet a floor plan of the building shows there was a stairwell opposite the door to his room.

"They have even said they haven't been able to find a motive but continue to accuse her.

"The police also incorrectly said our son, Michael, had cerebral palsy."

Mrs Harraghy said: "I think that was the most painful part of the whole thing.

"Michael had spinal muscular atrophy, he didn't have cerebral palsy, but it was as though they were trying to find some sort of connection to try and explain why I would murder Seamus.

"But to drag Michael into it was so, so upsetting."

Mrs Harraghy said that the impact has been awful.

"When I go out of the house I feel like I can't hold my head up.

"I have an elderly neighbour and I help her out but I've had to tell her family that if she becomes unwell I can't help in case I'm accused of doing something to her.

"She's a close family friend, so that's really hard.

"I also really feel for Seamus's family, they're victims in all this too because they haven't been told the truth.

"I just want my name to be cleared and I want other nurses to know what can happen to them.

"My colleagues all stood by me, they all said that it would have been them being accused if they'd been working that night instead of me.

"Unfortunately it was me working and my life's been ruined as a result."

The police did not respond to a request for a comment.

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