Inquest into young chef’s death halted a day after it opened

Sean Paul Carnahan with his mother Tracy Carnahan,
Sean Paul Carnahan with his mother Tracy Carnahan,

The family of a tragic young chef have spoken of their regret that his inquest has been adjourned a day after it opened.

Sean Paul Carnahan, from Beechmount Grove in west Belfast, died in July 2013 - five months after he was admitted to Belfast City Hospital with a severe brain injury.

His death is shrouded in controversy amid allegations the 22-year-old starved to death.

In a statement, solicitor Aiden Carlin said: “The Carnahan family share coroner Joe McCrisken’s regret at having to adjourn Sean Paul’s inquest.

“The coroner was expected to hear from 36 witnesses including senior doctors and nurses this week.

“However, it is understood that so much is bound up with the subject of the deceased’s nutrition that further medical evidence may now be required.”

Mr Carnahan’s mother Tracey Carnahan has spearheaded the family’s long-running campaign for an inquest.

Mr Carlin added: “Our client’s grief and sense of loss is very raw.

“She engaged with the hospital, police, politicians and the media at the material time, and continues to campaign for truth and justice for her son.

“Monday’s inquest hearing was a landmark step in that direction.”

Mr Carnahan was taken into hospital in March 2013 after a failed suicide attempt.

He spent a month in the intensive care unit (ICU) before being transferred to a respiratory ward.

According to medical documents presented during the opening day of the inquest at Belfast Coroner’s Court, his weight dropped from 74kg on admission to just 32kg at the time of the post-mortem examination.

Mrs Carnahan, who was first to give evidence, described daily arguments with medical staff about her son’s feeding regimes and alleged there were delays in reattaching feeding tubes which had become dislodged as a result of her son’s agitation.

She also said staff were dismissive of her concerns and that a social worker had replied “no comment” when the allegations about starving were raised.

An experienced neuro-pathologist who examined Mr Carnahan also appeared in the witness box.

Dr Brian Herron attributed the cause of death as bronchopneumonia due to ischaemic brain injury that resulted in a lack of blood flow following his failed suicide bid.

The doctor said death from pneumonia would have been a likely outcome, regardless of weight.

Meanwhile, hospital ward sister Lesley Carroll accepted it was difficult to feed Mr Carnahan due to his high level of agitation but said every effort was made to help him.

In a statement, the Courts Service said the hearing had been halted to allow Mr McCrisken an opportunity to access further medical evidence.

It said: “The coroner requires a further medical report before the inquest can resume.”

The case has been adjourned until further notice.