Belfast Telegraph

Partner of man killed in fall from building tells inquest she does not believe he jumped

By Rebecca Black

The long-term partner of a man who died after falling from an apartment complex in Newtownards told an inquest that she did not believe he jumped.

William Desmond Gallagher Mee (45), known as Des, of Blenheim Drive, died at the Ulster Hospital on July 26, 2016, after falling from the third floor of Millers House apartment block in the town centre.

There was speculation at the time of the incident that he had been pushed and allegations were reported of loyalist paramilitary involvement.

Mee was jailed for 12 years in 1990 for the gang rape of a woman in east Belfast. He also had convictions for abusing young girls when he was a teenager.

An inquest, which opened into Mr Mee's death yesterday, heard the detective who headed up what was originally a murder inquiry, describe it as a "very puzzling case", but said based upon the evidence he had, he took the decision that the death could no longer be treated as suspicious.

The first witness to give evidence to the inquest held by Coroner Patrick McGurgan was Donna Johnston, Mr Mee's partner of 33 years.

The couple had met when Ms Johnston was just 14, and had an on-and-off relationship, punctuated by several spells that Mr Mee had spent in jail.

She said he had a history of alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues and had been upset over the death of their daughter Melissa to cancer 11 months previously.

But Ms Johnston said that Mr Mee had been a "rock" for her while their daughter was ill.

She insisted that if he had wanted to take his own life, he would not have done it by jumping from a building.

Instead she said, there would have been "far easier" ways for him to have done so, such as taking an overdose or intentionally crashed his motorbike, as he had done previously.

Ms Johnston said he intentionally put himself in physical pain before to distract from his feelings if he was struggling.

"I think it is strange, him jumping off a building when he was scared of heights. I can't justify it," she said.

On the evening of Mr Mee's death, Ms Johnston said she had driven him to Millers House to return a mobile phone. Their young grandchild was in the car with them.

She said he would not have wanted them to see him die.

Ms Johnston also said he had been in great form on the day he died.

The inquest heard medical evidence from Dr James Lyness, who carried out the autopsy, via a statement read out under rule 17. He found death had been due to severe head injuries, but also noted severe injuries across Mr Mee's body.

He said it was not possible to rule out whether Mr Mee had been pushed or whether he had jumped from the evidence.

Eyewitness Stuart Campbell saw Mr Mee fall from the third floor of the apartment complex.

"He just fell, no shouting, no arms flinging or legs, he just fell," he told the inquest.

Detective Inspector Darren McCartney, of the PSNI's serious crime branch, investigated the incident.

He said three people who had been in the apartment Mr Mee visited before his fall were initially arrested on suspicion of murder and questioned for two days.

While one was not co-operative, two said during interviews that Mr Mee had become emotional, told them he was "going to see his daughter", opened the window and jumped out.

Mr McCartney said a "significant" investigation was carried out during which 102 witness statements were gathered.

But when he reviewed the evidence, he took the decision that Mr Mee's death could no longer be treated as suspicious.

He told the inquest he based this decision on several factors, including Mr Campbell's evidence on how Mr Mee had fallen.

"If someone was forced out of a window, I don't imagine they would fall feet first," he told the inquest.

Mr McCartney said his decision was also based on medical evidence, Mr Mee's personal history and forensic evidence of footprints on the window ledge and a lack of fingerprints on the window, among other factors.

"If you were to be forced out of a window, I imagine some sort of fingerprint marks would be found, but none were found," he added.

Barrister Aiden Corrigan, acting for Mr Mee's family, queried that no fingerprints had been found on the window, describing that as "peculiar". Mr McCartney responded by saying that it depends what part of the body touched the window.

Mr Corrigan also queried why one of the former suspects had not co-operated during police interviews, why police did not know who closed the window following the incident and whether any of the people inside the apartment had not tried to stop Mr Mee from jumping, if he did in fact jump.

Mr McCartney responded: "It's a very puzzling case. I believe the decision I came to is the right decision given the evidence in front of me at the time."

A number of other eyewitnesses did not turn up at the court yesterday and they were being sought by police last night.

The hearing continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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