Family of young Irishman who died after night out still in the dark over mystery death

By Sylvia Pownall

The family of a young man whose death is the subject of a State inquiry have accused authorities of keeping them in the dark.

Turf cutter Shane Tuohey was 23 when his body was recovered from the River Brosna in Offaly in 2002 – a week after he went missing after a night out with friends.

Gardai said his death was suicide, but his family believes he was assaulted on the night he died following a campaign of intimidation and bullying.

A “special inquiry” to examine the circumstances of his death and the Garda investigation into the tragedy was launched by then Tanaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in 2016.

But five years, on the probe – which has to date cost almost €500,000 – is still ongoing and Shane’s family say they are being “ignored at every turn”.

His sister Gemma Guinan told the Irish Sunday Mirror: “This is cruel and heartless. Shane is lying in a grave in Rahan, and nobody has told us anything.

“This is just a fact-finding mission, it’s not checking into how Shane died. What happened on the night in question? How did Shane die?

“There is CCTV footage of the night. We were told by gardai that the footage that was stored in Portlaoise Garda Station with other evidence had gone missing.

“This stinks to high heaven. It’s unbelievable that any family in 2021 is expected to accept this. It’s just so hard to see that they’re allowing this to happen.”

Six years ago it emerged that 17 CCTV tapes from Clara with footage of the night Shane disappeared turned up in a locker 13 years after gardai lost them.

Shane’s family and friends say he was intimidated and physically abused by a group of men his age in the months leading up to his death.

He was last seen at around 4.30am on February 2, 2002, after a night out with pals. One witness told the family he had been assaulted just before he disappeared.

He described a row in which Shane was hit full force with the door of a car as an argument flared over giving him a lift home.

The man said the force of the blow caused Shane to stagger back and fall against a wall six feet behind him.

However his statement to gardai, given four days later, made no mention of any altercation.

The inquest heard evidence from State Pathologist Dr John Harbison that there was “froth” in Shane’s bronchial airways.

His typewritten notes recorded that there were “sketchy reports” that the young man was suicidal, but no mention of allegations he may have been assaulted.

Shane’s family insist he had not mentioned suicide to them and did not have mental health issues.

Gemma said: “Shane’s brother Edwin pulled his body out of the river. There was no Garda search, the scene wasn’t preserved.

“The verdict of the inquest was drowning by immersion into fresh water. There was no water found in his lungs or stomach.

“We have two pathologists who are willing to come to Ireland to testify that he was assaulted.

“Shane had trauma that was very severe, these experts say there’s no way he could have survived that.”

The current inquiry is the fifth probe into the Garda handling of Shane’s death.

So far it has cost the taxpayer €382,000 in judges fees and almost €100,000 in other legal fees.

Gemma said: “By far this inquiry, out of the five inquires, is the most expensive and longest running one.

“We have no input into what is taking place here. No idea who has or will be called as a witness and refused all transcripts.

“We have no idea of when this inquiry is to be complete and when asked we do not get a proper answer.

“I received a huge amount of paper work under Freedom of Information. One internal email said ‘Tell Mr Tuohey as little information as possible’.”

Shane’s father Eamon was recently called to give evidence at the inquiry – but the family say this is just the first step and they want more input.

Gemma continued: “We have this Section 42 inquiry taking place, but it has nothing got to do with my brother.

“It’s a complete insult. It’s dragging his name through the mud – an insult to his memory and who he was.

“He was never in trouble with the gardai, he never took drugs, he was a hard worker, went out for his few pints, was never in a row.

“To have his body pulled out of the river a week after he was assaulted, it’s horrific.

“We’ve been asking these questions for 19 years, we’re living in a backward country when it comes to our justice system.”

A Department of Justice spokesman said the Minister would like to offer her “deepest sympathies” to the family, adding that she is “very conscious of the hurt and pain they have suffered because of Shane’s loss”.

The statement continued: “The Minister is also conscious of the family’s concern that the inquiry be concluded as soon as possible.

“The Department understands that the inquiry was impacted by the Covid-related restrictions but would hope that it can be concluded without any further undue delay.”


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