An elderly man who went missing from Killybegs Community Hospital and whose body was recovered from the harbour took his own life, an inquest has ruled.
Paddy Keeney (87) of Fintra Road was an in-patient who had been “in and out of the unit for eleven years”, the inquest at Donegal Town Court House heard on Tuesday. The popular local man suffered from recurrent transient ischaemic attacks (mini-strokes), congenital cardiac failure, depression and anxiety.
Nurse Mary Murphy told the inquest that, when she tended Mr Keeney on Friday morning, January 20 last, he told her “I got wind and my nerves are bad” which was the same thing he said to her every morning.
When she called back to his room at 11.15am, he was not there. Staff conducted a search of the ward and the day ward but he was not found. His friend, Arthur Kee, was being buried that day, and, as the hospital has an open door policy, it was thought that Mr Keeney might have gone to the funeral.
They checked CCTV footage and saw him fully dressed in a dark blue jacket and trousers and a light blue shirt, leaving via the front door between 10.30 and 11am.
Philomena McCrudden told the inquest she left her home at Ballyara at around 10.35 to drive to Dunkineely and, as she drove along the shorefront at Killybegs, she saw Mr Keeney standing on the footpath. “He had a walking stick and looked distressed and out of sorts. I thought he was going to step out in front of me. I was going to ring the hospital but didn’t have the number.”
Terence Byrne who works for United Fish also saw Mr Keeney twice, as he drove a tractor from the fish factory to United Fish and back again. At around 10.45am, he saw “an elderly man walking toward the eircom yard” and shortly later “the man was near the white railing: it looked to me like he was looking at the boats.”
Garda Sgt. Thomas Mitchell said that CCTV footage showed Mr Keeney walking to the pier, climbing up on to a 2ft wall and “being gone from the wall” three minutes later, with his walking stick located just below where he had been standing.
Members of Killybegs Coast Guard recovered his body from the water at Benrobe/Townasligo, Bruckless at 4.30pm.
The Coroner, Dr Diarmuid Hegarty, told the jury that the deceased “was an in-patient in a hospital with the freedom to come and go.”
He added: “We know that in any hospital it is impossible to stick one to one and keep an eye on a person every moment of the day and so incidents like this do occur.
“We rarely have evidence on CCTV footage of a person’s coming and going. It appears as if he certainly knew what he was doing.
“It is up to jury to decide whether this is a straightforward case of someone deciding of his own free will to end his life or something else. But it seems to have been very purposeful, the way he got up on the wall and then the next thing wasn’t on the wall. And it required a fair bit of effort, in that he had to use the stick and the lamp-post. It seems to be the actions of someone who knew what he was doing.”
When the jury returned a verdict of suicide, Dr. Hegarty commented: “It’s very sad because I used to see Paddy regularly in the hospital. He was a very nice man and very highly regarded by everyone who knew him. We can’t say what was going on his mind. We know that he suffered from depression from time to time but many people suffer from depression and we can’t speculate. It’s very, very sad.”
Dr Hegarty, the jury foreperson and the gardai extended their sympathies to the family of the deceased.