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Couple sentenced over “shocking” death by neglect of Wexford woman have convictions quashed

Evelyn Joel’s daughter and her partner were charged with manslaughter and convicted of unlawful killing by neglect.

Jonathan Costen and Eleanor Joel at Wexford District Court in 2012.
Jonathan Costen and Eleanor Joel at Wexford District Court in 2012.
Image: RTÉ

A WEXFORD COUPLE who were convicted of killing a 59-year-old MS sufferer by neglect have had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Evelyn Joel’s 41-year-old daughter, Eleanor, and her partner Jonathan Costen (43),  had pleaded not guilty to the unlawful killing of Evelyn by neglect in Co Wexford in January 2006.

Following a retrial, they were found guilty by a jury at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court and were given a two year suspended sentence on condition they carry out 230 hours of community service.

That conviction has now been overturned.

Evelyn Joel died in Wexford General Hospital after developing pneumonia. A week earlier she had been admitted to the hospital by ambulance after staying with Eleanor Joel and Jonathan Costen at their home at Cluain Dara, Enniscorthy.

The ambulance personnel said the patient was in very poor condition, the bed that she was lying in was filthy, due the fact that she was doubly incontinent and her lower body was covered in faeces. She had extensive bed sores which were found to contain maggots.

Today’s appeal found in favour of the couple on a number of grounds.

Unsatisfactory

Joel and Costen had argued that the negligence of others was an issue, as was how this was dealt with by the trial judge.

Today’s ruling found that the evidence of some healthcare professionals was relevant to the case and should have been heard. The fact that it wasn’t rendered the trial unsatisfactory, according to the Court of Appeal.

While there was no indication of criminal conduct, Mr Justice Birmingham said, the nature of the HSE’s interaction with Evelyn Joel “gave rise to concern and disquiet”.

The first ten months of her stay with her Eleanor Joel, Evelyn was seen 15 times by a public health nurse or one of her team. However, in the final four months, she was not visited by any HSE nurse despite the deterioration of her condition up to that point.

“During the final four months of her life the HSE involvement … was limited to leaving nappies outside the house where she resided,” the judge said.

Furthermore, such was the extent of publicity across County Wexford arising from the first trial, Mr Justice Birmingham said the issues at stake were so emotional, so sensitive and the coverage so massive and intense, their retrial “should have been transferred from Wexford to Dublin”.

The decision to replace a juror in the absence of Ms Joel’s legal advisors was also an “unsatisfactory state of affairs”, ruled the Court.

On the issue of causation, it was also decided by the Justice Bermingham that,

the medical history of Mrs. Joel was a very complex one and identifying the exact cause of death was not altogether straightforward.

- With reporting by Ruaidhrí Giblin

Read: Appeal by couple convicted of letting MS sufferer die with ‘maggots in her infected bedsores’ >

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