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The death of a Galway man in Germany: His family's search for answers

Matthew Fitzpatrick died in “exceptionally suspicious circumstances.” So what has the government done to help re-open the case?

Matthew 5 Source: Fitzpatrick family

MATTHEW FITZPATRICK, A successful engineer and beloved brother and son from Portumna, Co Galway, died on the night of 11 December, 2010 in his apartment in the German city of Mannheim.

Nearly four years later, his family are still searching for answers.

They want German authorities to re-open an investigation into his death, and they want the Irish government to help them.

Despite repeated requests, the large, close-knit family has not yet received a substantive response from Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, former Minister Eamon Gilmore, or acting Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

‘Why did Matthew have 45 injuries on his body?’

Matthew 2 Source: Fitzpatrick family

An initial autopsy by a German pathologist returned a verdict of suicide by hanging, but the Fitzpatrick family rejected this from the outset.

They see numerous inconsistencies between the first autopsy and a second one performed by then Deputy State Pathologist Dr Khalid Jaber, when Matthew’s body was repatriated in December 2010.

TheJournal.ie has seen excerpts of both autopsy reports.

Jaber concluded that Matthew’s death was due to asphyxia caused by ligature strangulation.

They point to dozens of separate injuries found on Matthew’s body - some of which Jaber concluded were defensive wounds.

In particular, the family says they’ve never been given an explanation for a significant trauma on the back of Matthew’s head, and haemorrhaging on his lower back.

Matthew 1 Source: Fitzpatrick family

Using information from the first autopsy, an analysis by the family suggests that it was physically impossible for Matthew to have hanged himself on the kitchen door in his apartment.

They cite the position of his body, his height, and the height of the door.

The Fitzpatrick family claim that German authorities ignored evidence and contradictory testimony, and even falsely attributed a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Matthew, in order to support an early and consistent conclusion that he took his own life.

A Coroner’s Court jury in Dublin in April 2011 returned an open verdict on the question of whether or not suicide had been the cause of death.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Matthew’s brother Patrick was adamant that the evidence is overwhelming for prosecutors in Mannheim to to re-open the case:

Why did Matthew have 45 injuries on his body?
Look at the German autopsy report, which took just two hours and includes nine photos.
And look at the Irish autopsy, which took seven hours and includes 184 photos.

‘He never missed Christmas at home’

Matthew & Mary Matthew Fitzpatrick with his sister Mary Source: Fitzpatrick family

Aside from the physical evidence they cite, the notion that Matthew took his own life never rang true for the Fitzpatrick family.

Matthew was employed by a Co Cork company but was contracted to do work in Mannheim, in the south-western region of Baden-Wurttemberg.

On 13 December 2010, he was due to return to Cork for a week, before going home to his family in Portumna.

He had also arranged to meet a German friend in Galway city to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

“Matthew never missed Christmas at home, even when he was living abroad,” says Patrick, who himself now lives in England.

He had already bought presents for everyone.He was at a wedding a month before he died, and we have a lovely video of him singing at it – he was the life and soul of the party.

What happens next?

Matthew 4 Source: Fitzpatrick family

Aside from the Justice For Matthew campaign, the family are currently petitioning a court in the city of Karlsruhe to re-open the investigation into Matthew’s death, their German lawyer told TheJournal.ie.

The prosecutor in Mannheim could re-open the case. But a court order would force him to do so.

The Fitzpatrick family lawyer is deeply unsatisfied with their treatment at the hands of authorities in Mannheim.

They have never really been taken seriously, and the police clearly very quickly came to the conclusion of suicide.

The case was re-opened in February 2012, but despite what Patrick calls a “disgraceful” two-year wait and 400-page report, Matthew’s family say the second German investigation once again ignored key evidence and left too many questions unanswered.

When the family filed disciplinary proceedings against a police investigator, their lawyer claims there was a marked change in the way the case was treated.

There was less energy put into the investigation, and into questioning persons of interest.

‘Matthew was a very proud Irishman – but he’s been let down by his country’

Matthew 6 Source: Fitzpatrick family

Matthew Fitzpatrick’s friends, parents, his five sisters and three brothers have had to endure nearly four years of legal battles to get German authorities to answer questions about his death.

But the most disappointing and frustrating aspect of their struggle seems to be a lack of help or acknowledgement from the Irish government.

TheJournal.ie has seen a letter, dated 9 April 2014 and marked “Urgent”, sent by the Fitzpatrick family to then Justice Minister Alan Shatter, then Foreign Affairs Minister and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, and acting Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

It refers to “flaws and contradictions” in the German investigation, requests that the recipients meet with the Fitzpatrick family, and asks them to “make formal representation to the German authorities.”

It also notes that, “as an Irish citizen, Matthew’s rights have been seriously violated…”

Matthew 3 Source: Fitzpatrick family

A follow-up letter was sent to Charlie Flanagan on 17 July, after he became Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The family has received only an acknowledgement of receipt from Flanagan and O’Sullivan.

Shatter’s office replied to say the case was more appropriate for the Department of Foreign Affairs, and that it had forwarded the family’s letter.

Eamon Gilmore, who was made aware of Matthew’s case just two days  after his death in 2010, is not understood to have made representations on behalf of the Fitzpatrick family, either during his three years as a Minister, or in his capacity as a TD.

In response to a parliamentary question from then Labour TD for Galway East Colm Keaveney, Gilmore told the Dáil on 11 May 2011 that he would “take a personal interest in the matter.”

The family were contacted this week by staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs to arrange a meeting with Ireland’s consular representation in Germany.

But Patrick questions whether this is enough, contending that the Irish consul in Berlin can’t put the necessary pressure on German authorities to re-open the case. Only the minister can do that, he says.

Matthew & Patrick Matthew Fitzpatrick (R) with his brother Patrick after an Irish rugby match. Source: Fitzpatrick family

A statement sent to TheJournal.ie says “the Consular Assistance Section at the Department [of Foreign Affairs] remains in ongoing contact with the Fitzpatrick family.”

That’s a claim Patrick rejects.

We’ve had no contact from the Irish embassy in Berlin since April 2011.

What can the Irish government do?

The statement sent to TheJournal.ie also claims:

The [department] and our Embassies abroad are generally precluded from becoming directly involved in legal matters which concern the judicial or investigative processes of another country.

There are, however, recent examples of such intervention by Minister Flanagan, as Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon points out.

“There is a very serious precedent here – the case of Ibrahim Halawa,” the Fine Gael deputy told TheJournal.ie, referring to the 18-year-old Irish citizen arrested and held in Cairo since the summer of 2013.

On 31 July – two weeks after the Fitzpatrick family wrote to Flanagan – the minister made this statement:

I spoke to [Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister] Shoukry on my first day as Minister and I subsequently wrote to him setting out the Irish Government’s concerns with regard to Ibrahim’s case.

He had done this, he claimed, “while in no way attempting to interfere in the judicial process.”

Inquiry into mother and baby homes Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

On 13 August, Flanagan stated that in a “number of calls to [Shoukry]…I have repeatedly emphasised the importance of due process in this case.”

I have taken a close personal interest in this case and myself and my department will continue to provide all assistance possible.

“Ibrahim Halawa is on trial,” says Cannon. “But Matthew Fitzpatrick is dead.”

“This was a young man, with his whole life ahead of him, who died tragically in exceptionally suspicious circumstances,” the Fine Gael TD says.

If this was your own brother or son, you’d hope that your government, and the machine of state, would be put to work on his behalf.
But up to now, the Fitzpatrick family has had little or no assistance.The Irish government doesn’t have to perform the investigation itself.
The family are simply asking that, based on evidence that has emerged, the Irish government request that German authorities re-open the case.

“It’s not complicated, what we’re asking for,” says Patrick.

Matthew was a very proud Irishman. He loved Irish rugby, and we used to go to matches together.
He loved traditional music, and actually planned to start a trad session in Mannheim with some friends, before he died.
When he travelled around the world, he introduced a lot of people to Ireland, and Portumna Co Galway.
But he has been completely and utterly let down by his country, and the people who are supposed to represent him.

TheJournal.ie has contacted Eamon Gilmore, Noirin O’Sullivan, regional authorities in Baden-Wurttemberg, and the Mannheim police department.

None of the above have offered any comment.

Read: Government to make formal complaint over pictures of Michaela crime scene>

Flanagan meets with family of Ibrahim Halawa, insists Department is pressuring Egypt>

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Dan MacGuill

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