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Caitríona Lucas Caitriona Lucas/Facebook/
Caitriona Lucas

Dept Transport refute claims of obstructing inquest into death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer

Caitriona Lucas died after a RIB capsized during a search for a missing man on 12 September 2016.

A SENIOR COUNSEL representing the Department of Transport at an preliminary inquest hearing into the death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas refuted suggestions by a maritime lawyer for Lucas’s family that it had attempted to obstruct the inquest. 

Lucas died after a RIB attached to the Kilkee Coast Guard unit, which she was crewing on, capsized during a search for a missing man on 12 September 2016. 

The 41-year-old mother-of-two, librarian, and experienced member of Doolin Coast Guard was the first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to die on a tasking. 

Simon Mills, a senior counsel representing the Department of Transport, which is responsible for the Irish Coast Guard, told the hearing at Limerick Coroner’s Court yesterday that his client would assist the inquest in any way it could. 

Michael Kingston, maritime lawyer instructed by Connolly O’Neill solicitors on behalf of the Lucas family, said the whereabouts of the safety helmet, life-jacket and dry-suit, worn by Lucas at the time she died, was unknown. 

He said the Irish Coast Guard had audio and visual recordings of the rescue attempt on the day but that the Lucas family and its representatives had not yet received this evidence. 

“It is seven years since this accident happened and we don’t have any of the evidence – it is staggering,” said Kingston. 

His request for members of the Marine Casualty Investiagtion Board (MCIB) as well as an MCIB investigator, which compiled a report into Lucas’s death, to appear as witnesses at the forthcoming inquest, was declined by the Coroner, John McNamara, however the MCIB report is to be admitted as evidence. 

Kingston “reasserted” the family’s belief that “critical evidence” had not yet been provided to the family’s representatives seven years on from Lucas’s death. 

“We need the evidence, to get to the bottom of what happened to Caitriona Lucas. There is so much evidence missing that we are at in impasse,” added Kingston. 

He also requested drone footage of the rescue attempt on the day, as well as video footage from an Irish Coast Rescue Helicopter. 

Mills said his client refuted a suggestion by Kingston that a letter sent from the Department of Transport to the Coroner to say that it wanted an inquest carried out in a certain way and that it would decide what evidence would be produced. 

“It does not say that, and nor would it ever say that,” said Mills. 

He said his client refuted Kingston’s suggestion “that there is some degree of obstruction by my client”. 

Mills said his client was “committed to providing as much assistance” as was required by the coroner. 

“We are here to cooperate … In so far as we can cooperate, we will cooperate,” he said. 

Mills added that the Lucas family’s solicitor’s firm had written to the department seeking certain evidence, but he said this request could only come from the coroner. 

Mills said the department had enquired as to the whereabouts of Lucas’s safety helmet and clothing but, “I am told we have not been able to locate the helmet and we have not been able to locate the life-jacket”. 

Mills said his client had indicated in a letter it sent to the coroner, that the Health and Safety Authority may have had information that may have led to the the whereabouts of Lucas’ PPE (personal protective equipment). HSA inspector, Helen McCarthy, told an earlier preliminary hearing into the inquest last April that a member of the Irish Coast Guard should “be questioned about that”. 

Mills said the Department “has told me it (Lucas’ PPE) is not available to them, they are not in a position to produce it for this inquest”. 

“I can’t say anything about the preservation of evidence because I don’t know where they (helmet, clothing) are, and I don’t know how they are not in somebody’s possession … It is not something I can address,” Mills added. 

The coroner said: “The evidence should have been preserved that’s the bottom line, so if it’s not there, there is not a lot I can do about it … I can’t produce it if it’s not there.” 

The coroner he would make enquiries with the HSA about the whereabouts of the helmet and clothing, however, he said, “I don’t suspect that they (HSA) will have it either”. 

‘How is that good enough?’

At this point, addressing the court, Caitriona Lucas’s widowed husband, Bernard Lucas, who was accompanied by his daughter, Emma Lucas, asked the coroner: “How is that good enough?” 

McNamara stated, that if the PPE evidence was not available, “what do you want me to do?”, to which Lucas retorted: “Find it, there has to be a record of it somewhere, so go and find it.” 

At this juncture the coroner told Kingston: “I don’t want to upset anyone, but I’m asking for people to control themselves in the context of this inquest”. 

“This is an inquest and court proceedings, and there are certain rules that have to be followed – I understand the sensitivities and everything else involved,” added the Coroner. 

“I know emotions run high but there are certain things that have to be observed in the context of an inquest and a courtroom.” 

Kingston replied that the Lucas family had suffered “seven years of agony”. He said Lucas was a “beloved wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and they (her family) want to understand what happened to her”. 

Kingston said he appreciated “there may be no deliberate obstruction” by parties, but his client had not received evidence they believed was key to finding out what happened in the lead up to during and after the death of the volunteer search and rescue member. 

Kingston told the coroner: “I have information that indicates that the life-jackets and helmets were under the control of the Irish Coast Guard. I accept that if they are saying that isn’t the case, then you are caught between a rock and hard place.” 

“Where is all of that evidence? and why didn’t they volunteer it, and why were Mr Mill’s clients not in this room to assist us to put my clients out of their agony.” 

Mills told the coroner that he believed Kingston’s line of questioning was “very unfair” on his client. 

Mills submitted that it was not in the scope of the inquest “to get to the bottom of where the PPE equipment is gone and why it has gone missing”. 

The coroner said he would write to the office of the Chief State Solicitor, requesting that all relevant evidence, including audio and visual recordings from the day, as well as any available drone footage, be provided to the inquest. 

The Coroner adjourned the matter for a full hearing on 27 November, when a jury of at least six members will be sworn in to hear the case. 

The inquest is expected to last for up to one week.

Comments are closed as legal proceedings are ongoing. 

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