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9 Beecher Street in Mallow, Co Cork, where the body was found. Google Streetview

Man's body lay undiscovered for over 20 years inside house in Mallow, Co Cork

Whilst no cause of death could be determined there was no suggestion of foul play.

THE FAMILY OF a man whose body lay undiscovered in a house in Cork for over two decades have expressed concern that the tragedy may not be an isolated incident. 

An inquest in Mallow, Co Cork has heard that skeletal remains found in a boarded up terraced house in Beecher Street in the town on 13 January last were subsequently identified as being those of the late Tim O’Sullivan. 

His remains were identified after gardai received a positive match with records from a local dentist who had treated him. He was discovered under a duvet on a bed in the house by two Cork County Council staff when they entered the boarded up property after the local authority received reports of vermin infestation.

The plan was for council employees to change the lock on the house to allow Rentokil to go in. The inquest heard evidence from Paul O’Donoghue of Cork County Council who said that he couldn’t get the lock open so he and his colleagues had to kick the door in. 

He noticed a considerable amount of post and leaflets inside the door of the property. O’Donoghue decided to do a “quick sweep” of the property. He spotted that there was a bedroom on the left. 

“I could see a bed in the middle of the floor. I then saw a shape of legs under the duvet, and a coat laid on top. I realised it was a human body. 

“I went out to my colleagues on the street and I said, ‘I’m not 100 percent sure but I think I saw a body on the bed.’ They followed me in.  We then observed with a lamp that it was a body. Mick Carroll (his colleague) then contacted the gardaí. I did not know who lived in this house. I never observed anyone entering or leaving his house.” 

Another council employee John O’Dell in Mallow said that they had received a message from a local councillor in 2014 about broken windows at the property. 

He said that they couldn’t establish who owned the property as it was not recorded on the Land Registry. 

As far as they could determine, it was derelict. O’Dell said in January 2015 he sent a request that the windows be boarded up and this work was carried out. 

Meanwhile, Garda Siobhan Costello of Mallow Garda Station attended at the scene after the workers called gardaí having made the grim discovery. She told the inquest that the workers had advised her that they had been at the house as a result of a compulsory purchase order put on the house by Cork County Council. 

“They had been there on the date in question as there had been a problem with rats. (Another garda) and I entered the house. I immediately noticed a large amount of post and brochures on the ground.

“I entered the front room and immediately turned left into what looked like a bedroom. All that was visible to the eye was the head and everything else was covered by a blanket.”

Garda Costello said crime scene officers were then contacted. Local GP Dr Marian Donovan was called to officially pronounce the death of the man. The body was subsequently brought to the morgue in Cork University Hospital for a postmortem examination. 

Sgt Eileen Kelly of Mallow Garda Station said in her evidence that she searched through documents found in 9 Beecher Street in an effort to identify the deceased. She found amongst other items receipts from a dental practice, a memorial card from 1980, a receipt from Tesco from 9 of January 2001, an AIB book in the name of Timothy O’Sullivan and diary entries from the 9, 10 and 11 of January 2001.

In one of the diaries O’Sullivan had noted that he had gone to Tesco “for the first time.”

Social welfare records indicated that O’Sullivan had been in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance from 4 October, 2000 to 23 January, 2001. His claim closed automatically as and from 23 January, 2001 as he failed to collect three payments in a row and the system automatically closes a claim when three payments go uncollected at the post office. O’Sullivan had missed collection on the 9, 16 and 23 January 2001.

Coroner Dr Michael Kennedy said that in all probability O Sullivan, who was born in Cahirsiveen in Co Kerry in 1939, had died in the property on a date unknown between 9 and 23 of January 2001.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster gave an account of her findings at postmortem. She said that that the remains were “totally skeletal except for some mummification”.

She reassured a nephew of the deceased who was present in court for the inquest that no evidence of trauma or fracture was identified. Dr Bolster said that there was no suggestion that the late Tim O’Sullivan died in any manner other than ‘peacefully’ in his bed.

Whilst no cause of death could be determined there was no suggestion of foul play. 

A statement was read into the record from Maureen O’Sullivan, who is a sister of the deceased. She said that the late Tim O’Sullivan hailed from a family of five. She stated that Tim was the first born of the children with all of his other siblings being UK nationals. 

“Both of my parents are originally from Cahirsiveen. Tim used to come over on holiday (from the UK) and stay where my Mam and Dad are from.

“Tim was married when he moved over to Ireland. They weren’t long married and she (his wife) would have moved back to England. 

“I would have contacted him by letter and I would have wrote regularly to him and he would have wrote back to me. A year or two after my mother passed away he stopped writing. I presumed that he had gone back to England. 

“My sister Noreen who lives in Australia would have called to Tim’s house. She said that the house was boarded up. She said that she called to neighbours who said that he was gone shopping or gone away. She said she called to the pub across the road and they said the same. 

“Noreen went to the guards that time and they hadn’t seen him and said that he had probably gone back to England. Noreen said that she did call the station a few times but she never spoke to the guard she met when she called to the station.”

She said that she did not know who had boarded up the house of her brother and that Tim was never reported missing because the family thought he had gone back to the UK.

Noreen Foster said in a statement that she received a Christmas card from Tim every year up until 2002. In 2003 she travelled from Australia to meet up with family and friends in Ireland and the UK.

She went to Mallow on 24 July, 2003 in the hope of seeing her brother. She knocked on the door and didn’t get an answer. She looked in the window and “it looked like nobody had been living there in a while.”

Foster said that neighbours told her they hadn’t seen Tim in a while. She said gardaí told her that they presumed Tim had gone back to England. 

“We assumed he (the garda) was going to look into it further. I remember phoning the garda a week later. He did not provide any further information about Tim. I expected that they (gardai) had gone into the house but obviously no one did.”

A sum in punts equivalent to 8000 euro was found in the the property. There was no sign of forced entry or anything suspicious. 

Dr Kennedy joined gardaí in offering his condolences to the family of the deceased. He said that it was a source of consolation to his relatives that there was nothing to suggest that he experienced anything other than “a peaceful death.” 

Kennedy said that he would be writing to the relevant Minister regarding an urgent review of derelict property regulations. 

“This is a unusual case. (It is) disturbing that a man could lay dead and undiscovered in a house for so long.”

An open verdict was recorded. A statement was read out on behalf of the O’Sullivan family by solicitor Fiona O’Sullivan. 

They said more than twenty years ago they went to Mallow in a bid to locate Tim. 

“At that time, we were unaware that Tim owned the property, which made us hesitant to enter the house without resorting to breaking and entering. We spoke with local residents and sought assistance from the local Gardaí.

“The prevailing narrative among local residents and the Gardaí at the time was that Tim had possibly returned to the UK. We assumed the Gardai would carry out a welfare check to confirm the house was vacant. However, we know now that this was not done.

“As a family, we acknowledge that we should have done more to locate our brother. We bear the weight of our own regrets for not being able to find him earlier, and this is something we will carry with us always.”

The family said that gardaí and the local authorities involved could have shown “more care and due diligence” in this matter. 

“The decision to board up the house without conducting internal checks highlights one of the many shortcomings in the current derelict property processes and surely concealed the truth about our brother’s whereabouts for even longer.

“We do not seek to lay blame, but rather to emphasise to all parties involved that more could have been done.

“Moreover, we are deeply concerned that this tragedy may not be an isolated incident. In a nation with over 180,000 derelict properties, we worry that similar cases could remain hidden. We firmly believe that the current derelict housing legislation in Ireland is insufficient.”

The O’Sullivans added that existing systems and processes seem inadequate.

“Sending notification letters to the derelict house, erecting a notice and waiting extended periods, often exceeding twelve months, before commencing the CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order) process, is an impediment to timely intervention.

“Furthermore, local authorities appear to not have the authority to conduct the necessary legal searches in both the Registry of Deeds and Land Registry to determine the owner and to carry out subsequent searches to contact any next of kins before initiating or during the CPO process.

“We appeal to this court, and humbly request a comprehensive review of the legislation and processes surrounding derelict properties and the CPO procedure in Ireland. We advocate for a more compassionate, efficient, and proactive system to prevent future events of this nature.

“Coroner, we ask for your help in ensuring that no family goes through what we have experienced.”

Olivia Kelleher