Scene of Churchill man’s death aroused suspicion, Garda tells inquest

November 16, 2022

A Garda at the inquest of a man found dead at his home in Churchill said the scene immediately aroused suspicion.

The inquest of horse dealer Seamus Doherty, 67, who was found dead in suspicious circumstances at his home in 2012, began today.

The inquest, being held by Donegal Coroner Dr Denis McCauley, is expected to last a number of days at Letterkenny courthouse.

Mr Doherty was found dead at his home at Drumacanoo near the village of Churchill at around 1.50am on June 17, 2012.

Garda Daniel Costello recalled how he arrived at the scene at around 2.10am. He saw four people in the house and entered via the rear door.

He asked Ms Anne Doherty, who had telephoned to report that her husband was dead, where Mr Doherty was?

Garda Costello saw Mr Doherty laying face down on the bathroom floor. His arm was stiff and cold to touch, the Garda said. The Garda said he noticed a ‘red graze’ on Mr Doherty’s head, which he believed to be fresh.

He informed colleagues at Milford Garda Station that he believed that the scene appeared suspicious.

He said the nature of the bathroom also roused suspicion. The cistern lid was off the toilet, the shower door was broken and a laundry basket was laying beside Mr Doherty’s body. Water was also leaking from behind the toilet.

“The body was in a curled position,” Garda Costello said.

Paramedics who arrived on the scene told Garda Costello that it was likely that Mr Doherty had been dead for ‘some time’.

In an interview with Garda Costello, Ms Martina Spokes said that Mr Doherty had spilled washing powder, which she had cleaned up and she heard ‘a bang’ at around 1am. Mr Doherty, she said, was last seen alive at 1am.

Ms Anne Doherty told how she discovered the body of her husband.

“I thought that Seamus was away to bed,” Ms Doherty said. “It was coming up to 1am on Sunday when I left the kitchen.

“I found Seamus laying on the floor and I thought: ‘Jesus, there’s something wrong with Seamus’. I got a shock.

“I told Jim Clarke that I thought he was dead. The next thing I remember is all the guards coming into the house.”

Earlier that day, Ms Doherty told how her husband had appeared ‘very confused’ while he put spuds on the cooker to boil.

She recalled saying to her husband how he didn’t appear himself and was worried when he didn’t answer.

“I was worried about him earlier in the day,” Ms Doherty said in her deposition.

In the afternoon, Jim Clarke – who had arrived initially to deliver a pony which Mr Doherty was buying from another man, John McArt – took Mr Doherty to Letterkenny hospital, seeking to have him assessed for admission into the psychiatric unit. Mr Doherty refused admission and returned home.

Ms Doherty remembered her husband put on a fry and said he was in ‘middling’ form.

At around 11pm, John McArt and Martina Spokes went to a nearby off-licence.

Ms Doherty recalled Mr McArt arriving back with a small bottle, which she placed into a box used to hold her knitting equipment.

Ms Doherty said her recollection between around 11.30pm and 1am was ‘blank’.

Samuel James ‘Jim’ Clarke said he arrived to Seamus Doherty’s house in a Hilux jeep at around midday. He said he was greeted by Mr Doherty, whose trousers were down to his ankles. He assisted Mr Doherty in fixing his trousers again.

“He was acting strangely,” Mr Clarke said. In the house, Mr Clarke said Mr Doherty had poured hot ashes onto a turf bucket. “I was afraid that he would burn the house down,” he said.

After taking Mr Doherty to hospital, he left once a doctor arrived to assess Mr Doherty, saying he had cattle to feed.

He said when he arrived back, Mr Doherty was ‘in better form’. “He took no drank and he was in good form and he drank from a cough bottle,” he said.

“We sat in the house chatting and drinking,” he said. “Everything was fine and normal. There were definitely no rows or fights.”

He remembered Mr Doherty getting up and leaving the room, but was unsure what time this happened. “The next thing I remember is Anne Doherty saying that she thought that her husband was dead,” Mr Clarke said.

Mr Clarke told the inquest that he did not wish to answer questions ‘in case I incriminate myself’.

He did engage with Mr Barra McGrory QC, for the children of the late Mr Doherty, saying that he was questioned by Gardai who left him home later that night.

“He certainly wasn’t questioned about the incident,” Garda Costello later said.

Mr Clarke told Mr McGrory that he was not asked to provide his clothes or shoes for inspection that night and was not arrested on the night.

Under subsequent questioning from Ms Alison Reilly SC, for An Garda Siochana, Mr Clarke said there was no discord on the night and nothing untoward. He said there was no tension in the house.

Asked if ‘everything was fine and normal’, Mr Clarke said: “It depends on what you call normal.”

The inquest heard that Mr Clarke could be heard saying ‘dial 999 for God’s sake’ while Ms Doherty telephoned for assistance. He said he had no recollection of this,

Ms Spokes told the inquest that she arrived at the Doherty household with Jim Clarke and John McArt.

She told how Mr Doherty had scattered ashes on the floor and had been ‘going through the cupboards, banging the doors’.

They returned home after Mr Doherty was taken to hospital, but they went back to the Doherty house at around 9.30pm.

“Me and John left at 10.30pm to go to the pub,” Ms Spokes said. “When we were leaving, Jim was fixing some rollies. Everything was grand when we left.”

They came back to the Doherty house with a half-bottle of whiskey.

Ms Spokes said she didn’t see Mr Doherty in the house upon her return. “There were no fights or rows,” she said.

Garda Sinead McHale said the house was designated as a crime scene at 2.30am and said the situation could have been described as ‘unexplained or suspicious.’

She said Ms Doherty couldn’t have been interviewed on the night due to her level of intoxication.

Garda Costello took Mr Clarke, Mr McArt and Ms Spokes to Mr Clarke’s house in Raphoe after the Doherty house was sealed and locked, while Ms Doherty was taken to a Garda station.

“We were limited in what was available to us,” Garda Costello said, adding that he was instructed to take the parties home, saying that ‘it was 4.30am and we couldn’t put them on the road, for their own safety’.

He added: “We were dealing with people in a very intoxicated state and they were very unhelpful in providing information as to what happened. Information wasn’t forthcoming. It was unusual that there was nobody willing to assist us,

“There was nothing to say that there was a row and no evidence of a row.”

Garda Costello said he believed that Gardai dealt with the matter appropriately on the night.

The inquest, before a jury of four women and two men, continues at Letterkenny courthouse.


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