Family of Tipp student want coroner to recuse himself from inquest in to death

By Ann O'Loughlin

The parents of a 19-year-old student, whose body was found in a canal in Galway city three years ago, want the coroner dealing with their son's inquest to recuse himself from hearing the case, the High Court has heard.

Jim and Nora Gubbins, parents of journalism student Brian Gubbins, claim West Galway coroner Ciaran McLoughlin was observed by them being given a "guided tour" by a garda inspector of where their son was last seen and they allege he had therefore pre-determined the outcome of the inquest.

The Gubbins claim the gardaí failed to carry out a thorough investigation of his death in a timely manner, including making efforts to locate two youths seen on CCTV following or "shadowing" their son and taking videos of him shortly before he was last seen.

Brian was also the victim of an assault outside a nightclub shortly before his disappearance but the DPP declined to prosecute because gardaí allegedly had submitted the file in relation to the offence after the six-month time limit from the date of the incident, the Gubbins say.

The gardaí regarded the death as a tragic drowning and had failed to conduct a professional investigation and follow reasonable lines of inquiry, the Gubbins say.

Today, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan granted lawyers for the Gubbins family leave to bring High Court judicial review proceedings against the coroner hearing the inquest. He placed a stay on the holding of the inquest pending determination of proceedings.

In a sworn statement, Jim Gubbins, Gortlandroe, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, says shortly before the scheduled inquest on January 25 last, he and he wife were showing their own lawyers some of the places Brian had been before his death when Mr Gubbins spotted the coroner and a garda inspector, who was to present the case at the inquest, walking around the same area.

He said they were shocked to see the coroner being given "a guided tour" by the inspector who was pointing out various locations, he said.

The coroner refused to recuse himself saying he had visited the area as it was difficult to visualise and said he was not influenced by the garda. When the Gubbins said they wished to bring High Court proceedings over the matter, the inquest was adjourned to October.

Mr Gubbins said the family had spent the past three years trying to get the gardaí to conduct a thorough investigation.

Mr Gubbins said his son, a student at the University of Limerick (UL) was on a UL-students union organised "mystery tour" to a Galway nightclub on February 12/13, 2015. CCTV showed he was in the club for 45 minutes and left briefly but was refused readmission.

Brian, who his father said was gentle and respectful and tended to avoid threatening or aggressive situations, went to a nearby restaurant for something to eat. When he returned to try to get back into the club, he was again refused. It was while he was outside the club that one of three youths he was talking to assaulted Brian causing him to fall against a barrier, CCTV showed.

Mr Gubbins said the footage showed Brian leaves the area and is next seen approaching another nightclub in Abbeygate Street. Two other youths, not those involved earlier, are seen shadowing Brian, taking videos or selfies of him as he walked along the street.

All three go off camera heading in the direction of the Born Shopping Centre. Three or four minutes later, the two youths are back on camera returning from that area.

The following Sunday morning, after he failed to turn up for lectures on Friday and after a search was organised by his parents, Brian's body was found in a canal that connects to the Corrib River, the court heard.

Mr Gubbins said the garda superintendent in overall charge of the investigation did not appear to be concerned with the two youths seen following Brian.

The Gubbins solicitor wrote to the superintendent saying it was difficult to comprehend how he could have "inadvertently fallen into and drowned in a 2-feet deep stream guarded by a 4-5 foot high railings at the location where the body was found". The footage showed he was not so intoxicated as to be incapable of looking after himself, Mr Gubbins said.

The Gubbins complained to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission which, following an investigation in 2016 and 2017, found no breach of garda regulations and that a proportionate and full investigation had been carried out by the gardai.

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