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'He had a heart of gold': Inquest rules death of park ranger at council depot was suicide

The inquest heard the phrase “Stand up to bullies” was spray-painted on the wall of the canteen where Stephen Taylor’s body was found.

Image: Leah Farrell

THE SISTER OF a park ranger who died by suicide at a council depot has described her brother “a character, who had a heart of gold”. 

Stephen Taylor (43) from Ashbourne, Co Meath, worked as a park ranger for Fingal County Council. His body was discovered at a depot in Coolmine, Co Dublin at 11.30pm on 4 March 2017.

The father-of-one had been working that day and his family raised the alarm with the council when he failed to return home. His body was found that night by a colleague in the work canteen. Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane today gave a verdict of death by suicide.

The man’s sister Lorraine Taylor told TheJournal.ie that the family was told after his death of all of the gestures of goodwill he had done for people over his life. 

“He was like one of those secret millionaires. Anyone who needed any sort of a digout, it was no problem to Stephen, he was there for everybody and anybody. 

He was a quiet man, he didn’t drink or smoke and his family were his priority, his wife and his daughter. He could be an awful messer, always up to mischief with the family. And he was a perfectionist – if you ever wanted anything done like even hanging a picture he’d be out with a spirit level marking everything out. 

Today the inquest at Dublin Coroner’s Court heard garda evidence that the phrase “Stand up to bullies” was spray-painted on the wall of the canteen where Taylor’s body was found.

Dr Cullinane also heard evidence from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) which conducted its own investigation of the death due to the fact that it occurred in a workplace and there was an accusation that workplace bullying could have been a causal factor. The HSA’s report found no evidence of bullying. 

‘Fractious relations’

Patricia Murray, senior organisational psychologist with the HSA, said the investigation looked at Taylor’s personnel file for evidence of bullying, which she described as “repeated, undermining, disrespectful, targeted behaviour targeting one person”. 

She said she also interviewed a random sample of colleagues at all levels to see whether they would give evidence of witnessing any of this behaviour which may not be in the file.

“My report notes nobody said they had seen anything, ever. There’s nothing in the entire [personnel] file that shows a targeting that is evidence of bullying. That’s using the Irish standard for bullying,” she explained. She said it was clear that there were “fractious relations and disharmony”, as well as “ongoing upset” felt by Stephen Taylor. 

We had very little to go to anybody with other than openly asking did they see or hear any inappropriate behaviour – all the witnesses said ‘no’.

She said Taylor’s file showed he had raised a number of issues with how work was being carried out. The file, she said, indicated these complaints had been addressed and dealt with appropriately. She acknowledged that the deceased man had not been satisfied with how the issues were addressed. 

The investigating garda told Dr Cullinane that she had requested CCTV footage from the council within two days after the man’s death. She said she collected the footage from a council base on 26 April but when she viewed it she discovered it was the correct date, but not the relevant cameras.

“When I identified this I was straight back onto them and was informed the [correct] CCTV had been written over.”

When asked why it took 11 months for gardaí to discover video messages recorded on an iPad by the deceased man on the day of his death, she said she is not trained to download electronic devices and had sent it to another garda section for examination.

The garda investigation concluded Stephen Taylor had not died in suspicious circumstances and there was no evidence to suggest any criminal activity.

‘Disappointed’

Lorraine Taylor told TheJournal.ie that her brother had been “in great form” before he left for work on the day he died. 

She said they were “disappointed” with the outcome of the inquest, in particular the evidence about incorrect CCTV footage being handed over to the gardaí. She said the family had hoped the footage would give an indication of her brother’s movements during the hours before his death

The man’s sister said she was also disappointed that the council has not changed any of its procedures in relation to staff working on their own, as her brother’s body was not discovered until hours after his death. 

“He was a dedicated family man and if he wasn’t going to be home on time he would always ring and let Carmel [his wife] know. For him to go off missing was totally out of character.

“We thought he was after having a heart attack or something. He had handed in guns and drugs he found in the park to the guards before and so there was that fear of retaliation as well. Suicide never even came into our thoughts. To hear the final verdict is a blow to the pit of our stomachs.”

Work-related stress

Dr Myra Cullinane read evidence from the deceased man’s GP into the record, which stated Taylor had been out of work four times due to work-related stress between October 2009 and December 2016. The longest period of time out of work was six weeks. 

He had returned to work after the final absence on 3 January 2017, three months before his death. 

Dr Cullinane also revealed details of the post-mortem, which found the man’s cause of death was asphyxia. There was no alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of his death.

She explained to the man’s family that her verdict based on all of the evidence was one of death by suicide. 

“I know it must be very difficult to go through these two days,” she told them. She said due to the nature of inquests “we don’t have much sight of the person who has been lost”. 

“I offer my very deepest condolences, I can see from the documents I have that he was very loved, he adored his daughter. It’s such a difficult thing to understand.”

Need help? Support is available:

  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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