herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Couple's conviction for killing MS sufferer by neglect is overturned

Courts

Eleanor Joel and her partner Jonathan Costen had their convictions for killing Evelyn Joel by neglect quashed. Photo: Collins Courts
Eleanor Joel and her partner Jonathan Costen had their convictions for killing Evelyn Joel by neglect quashed. Photo: Collins Courts

Healthcare professionals involved in the case of MS sufferer Evelyn Joel were potentially "significant witnesses" in the trial of a couple accused of killing her by neglect, a judge has said.

Eleanor Joel (41) and her partner Jonathan Costen (43) had their convictions for the manslaughter of Joel's mother, Evelyn (59), quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

The couple had pleaded not guilty to the unlawful killing of Evelyn by neglect in Co Wexford in January 2006.

They were found guilty at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court and given two-year suspended sentences in March 2013 on condition that they carry out 230 hours of community service.

Disturbed

The pair, with a last address at Cluain Dara, Enniscorthy, appealed their convictions, with the Court of Appeal yesterday holding that they succeeded on a number of grounds.

Ambulance personnel who saw Evelyn in December 2005 were "greatly disturbed by the condition in which they found their patient".

The bed she was lying in was filthy, her lower body was covered in faeces and she had extensive bed sores found to contain maggots.

Admitted to hospital on January 1, 2006, she initially made progress but developed pneumonia and died on January 7.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Joel and Costen contended that others, including healthcare professionals and local authority officials, were responsible for such negligence as allegedly happened.

While there was no indication of criminal conduct, Mr Justice Birmingham said the nature of the HSE's interaction with Evelyn "gave rise to concern and disquiet".

"During the final four months of her life, the HSE involvement was limited to leaving nappies outside the house," he said.

"One would have to say that there were sufficient indications of possible failings on the part of statutory agencies. The Minister for Health spoke of huge failings, that the matter required investigation."

The healthcare professionals who dealt with Evelyn were potentially "very significant witnesses" and ought to have been called, the judge said.

He also said the retrial "should have been transferred from Wexford to Dublin", and added that the replacement of a juror was taken in the absence of Joel's legal advisers.

Further, Evelyn's complicated medical history made identifying the exact cause of death not altogether straightforward.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, quashed the couple's conviction.

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