Belfast Telegraph

Stepdad's shock at finding suicide victim James 'Jim' McCotter in kitchen

By Allan Preston

The stepfather of a west Belfast man who took his own life in 2012 has described his shock at discovering his stepson's body and explained why he briefly concealed his suicide note from police.

Father-of-one James 'Jim' McCotter was 29 when he took his own life at his flat in Woodbourne Court on August 12, 2012.

Hours earlier he had been in police custody, where he had told officers he had plans to kill himself. Mr McCotter's family has been critical of the PSNI's decision to release him without telling them, knowing he was suicidal.

On day three of his inquest yesterday, the court heard the statement of Mr McCotter's stepfather, Stephen Lagan.

The evidence also focused on Mr McCotter's treatment in police custody, in particular, the guidance from a forensic medical officer who examined him in his cell, but was not told about his risk of suicide.

Mr Lagan's statement from 2012 was read out to court and explained how Mr McCotter had been at his house on the day before his death, helping him to cut the grass.

He added that he was aware Mr McCotter had ongoing issues with prescription medication.

On Sunday, August 12, 2012, concerned family members called Mr Lagan to the Woodbourne flat where he found his stepson intoxicated, with a black eye and threatening suicide.

Believing he would be safer in custody, the family called the police. Needing a reason to detain him, officers arrested him for being drunk, as it was a breach of a previous bail conditions.

Outside, Mr Lagan said he complained to an officer who had pushed Mr McCotter's head against a rear windscreen.

He then heard his stepson say: "I don't know why they're harassing me, when I get out I'm going to kill myself."

Police later said Mr McCotter had resisted arrest, spitting at one officer.

Worried about his safety, the family asked to be informed before his release.

Mr Lagan said he was shocked to be told he was released that night without any notice.

Arriving at Woodbourne Court, Mr Lagan said he "feared the worst" when he saw a note at the door which read: "Sorry for whoever finds me."

Mr McCotter was discovered hanging in his kitchen, but could not be saved despite attempts by paramedics to revive him for 20 minutes.

Mr Lagan said a second suicide note found in the kitchen contained an apology to Mr McCotter's mother Carol.

"I made a decision not to give it to police," said Mr Lagan.

"I was also aware there was a remark saying they 'would never know how police had hurt me'. I was concerned about showing police as it (might) disappear."

Moments later, Mr Lagan changed his mind and handed the note over to an officer, who assured him it would not be lost.

During yesterday's evidence, forensic medical officer Professor John Farnan was questioned about his assessment of Mr McCotter. He said he not been told about the suicide risk when called to Mr McCotter's cell.

During a brief 30 second visit, Mr McCotter refused medical help, but said he suffered from depression.

Professor Farnan concluded a proper assessment of his mental state could not be carried out until Mr McCotter was sober, and that even if he had known of the suicide risk his advice would have remained the same - constant CCTV supervision, with physical checks every 30 minutes until a full assessment was possible.

Mr McCotter was later released and left home to his flat by police that evening.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson is due to deliver her findings next week.

Belfast Telegraph


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