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'I think Alan has done something terrible and he killed them all'

The inquest into the death of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons continues in Cavan today.

Warning: Some of the following details may be distressing to readers

christmas cavan Cavan Courthouse Source: Daragh Brophy/TheJournal.ie

A LARGE CHRISTMAS tree stands in the grounds outside the imposing structure of Cavan Courthouse.

Notices advertising Christmas tree sales and festive concerts are displayed along roadways on the way into the town centre.

Like anywhere in Ireland at this time of year, the sense is of a community making final preparations for the Christmas break.

Inside courtroom two, however, the mood was quiet and sombre.

Courthouses, before proceedings start, can be busy places – full of noise, as groups of lawyers, gardaí and journalists chatter before their day’s work begins.

There was none of that yesterday morning as Courtroom 2 began to fill for the inquest into the deaths of the Hawe family.

The case shocked the nation when their five bodies were discovered at their home in Castlerahan in August 2016 – parents Clodagh and Alan, both schoolteachers, and children Liam, 14, Niall, 11, and six-year-old Ryan.

An ordinary Sunday night

The room filled first with jury members, and solicitors for the families of Clodagh and Alan Hawe. Clodagh’s mother, Mary Coll, sat in the first row of the small public gallery alongside family members and friends.

Mary is likely the last person to speak to her daughter, son-in-law or three grandchildren before they died.

They had called over to her house, as normal, the night before their bodies were discovered.

It had been a perfectly ordinary Sunday evening. She served tea and biscuits – they caught up, talked about work, talked about Lotto numbers. They had to leave a little early as Ryan was due a bath.

Mary wished Alan luck as he was due back at Castlerahan National School, where he was vice-principal, the next morning. She remembered he wasn’t looking forward to going back after the summer break.

90428658_90428658 The coffin of Liam Hawe arriving at the church for the funeral mass in September 2016. Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Emotive’

Coroner Dr Mary Flanagan, starting the inquest shortly after 10am, acknowledged it was a “particularly emotive” case.

She stressed during the proceedings how it was important to hear testimony from the various witnesses, gardaí and specialist gardaí in sequence.

That meant the first gardaí at the scene were amongst the first to speak. Mary Coll, as she had spoken to the family a matter of hours before their deaths, was also sworn in to testify – and was asked to come up to the witness box as a senior garda read back her statement.

Mary had also been the first person at the house on the day that the bodies of her daughter, her grandchildren and their father were discovered.

Clodagh had been due to call over to her mother that morning, 29 August, with Ryan and Niall, after she had dropped Liam off to school.

But as the morning wore on and there was no sign of her, Mary began to worry that something had happened.

She first called Alan’s number, as she thought Clodagh would be driving – but after calling the house phone and then her daughter’s own mobile, decided the best thing to do was to call to the house herself.

Both family cars were parked in the driveway of the detached house. Instantly, she knew something was wrong.

She suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

She went to the back door and took out her key – but noticed a note taped to the inside of the glass, telling her not to go inside and to call the gardaí. She recognised it as Alan’s handwriting.

“I think Alan has done something terrible and he killed them all,” she remembered telling a neighbour, as they waited for the gardaí to arrive.

Garda Alan Ratcliffe, the first officer to enter the house, told the inquest how he later had to break the news to Mary that Clodagh and her boys were dead.

He had found all five bodies in the house, and there were no signs of life.

Cause of death

A fingerprint expert told the inquest that he had inspected an axe found next to Clodagh’s body and matched it with a palm print of Alan Hawe. A handwriting expert said there was conclusive evidence that notes and letters found in the kitchen were written by Hawe.

The morning’s proceedings were suspended early, as Dr Flanagan said she wanted to hear from Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis next, and he wasn’t due to arrive until 2pm.

PastedImage-42404 Clodagh Hawe with her three boys Source: EverydayHero

Everyone knew Curtis’s testimony would be the most difficult – as it was his task to perform the post-mortems and record the time, manner and cause of death.

Reading the conclusions from his own prepared statement, Curtis told the courtroom how Clodagh had died from a stab wound and axe blows to the head.

Her three sons all died as a result of similar stab injuries to their necks, which severed their windpipes.

Answering questions from the coroner, Dr Curtis said it was difficult to believe similarities in the manner of the boys’ killings were entirely coincidental as the incisions had rendered the victims unable to make a sound.

Alan Hawe’s body was found in the hallway of the house. Asked whether there was any evidence that any other party had been involved in his death, the pathologist replied “none whatsoever”.

Several of Clodagh’s family members sobbed as Curtis gave his evidence, and there was an audible gasp at one point as he went into the detail about one of the boy’s deaths.

His testimony had taken a little over 20 minutes, but it was – necessarily – harrowing, and very difficult to hear.

Flanagan, the coroner, said the jury had “heard enough evidence for the day” and suspended the inquest.

More medical testimony will be given today, and the inquest is expected to conclude this afternoon.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans: 116 123 or text 087 2609090
  • Aware: 1800 80 48 48 (for depression and anxiety)
  • Pieta House: 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (for suicide and self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland: 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline: 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
  • Domestic violence support: Safe Ireland

You can contact Women’s Aid on 1800 341 900.

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