Inquest into death of Savita Halappanavar opens in Galway

Friday 18 January 2013 23.48
1 of 2
Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she died in hospital (Pic: The Irish Times)
Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she died in hospital (Pic: The Irish Times)
Praveen Halappanavar speaks to reporters outside Galway Courthouse
Praveen Halappanavar speaks to reporters outside Galway Courthouse

The preliminary hearing at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar has concluded at Galway Courthouse.

Mrs Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant and was miscarrying when she attended Galway University Hospital.

She died on 28 October last year.

In his opening statement, Galway West Coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin said it was his job to ensure the inquest would be independent, prompt and effective.

Dr MacLoughlin said it was his function to ensure that the truth emerged and that all facts were investigated.

He expressed his sympathies to Mrs Halappanavar's husband, Praveen, on the death of his "beloved Savita".

Dr MacLoughlin said he wished to acknowledge the full co-operation of Mr Halappanavar and his legal team and that of the gardaí, the HSE and their legal representatives.

The inquest will resume on 8 April at Galway Courthouse.

Mr Halappanavar was represented by barrister John O'Donnell at this morning's hearing, while Declan Buckley SC represented University Hospital Galway, its staff and the HSE.

Mr Buckley told the coroner that 48 statements had already been provided and that a further eight were outstanding.

He said that two of the individuals yet to make statements "needed to be safeguarded from distress".

These are members of staff who made a written entry to the hospital records.

They have been unable to assist the investigation for confidential reasons, which the coroner said he recognised and accepted.

Dr MacLoughlin said that in the event that their evidence became necessary he would revisit the issue.

However, Mr O'Donnell said his client wanted to be able to review all evidence and that he would have reservations about proceeding if the situation was not clarified to his satisfaction.

Mr Buckley said the HSE would write to Mr Halappanavar's legal representatives and alert them of the issues surrounding the two staff members, on the strict understanding that the information remained confidential.

Mr O'Donnell said he was happy to proceed on that basis.

As the hearing progressed, Dr MacLoughlin said the full inquest would commence in Galway Courthouse on 8 April and that facilities are available for a further week in late May should proceedings take more than a week.

The coroner said it was his intention to hold the inquest as promptly as possible and he said that the local authority, Galway City Council, had agreed to provide excess funding for expert witnesses and other sundry expenses that may arise.

Mr MacLoughlin intends to call five expert witnesses

Mr Halappanavar's legal team told the inquest that it would be engaging expert witnesses and would furnish the reports on which they would rely to the HSE and to the coroner.

Towards the conclusion of the hearing, Mr Buckley asked the coroner to ensure all interested parties would agree that statements furnished to the inquest would remain confidential.

He said that staff at University Hospital in Galway had been upset and distressed that statements given confidentially had been passed to the media in the past 24 hours.

Mr Buckley said he did not attach "one iota" of blame to the media for this and commended their coverage to date.

But he said the hospital and its staff had co-operated on the basis that all statements would remain confidential and that he was concerned at "misleading information" being disseminated.

Dr MacLoughlin said that all statements were made voluntarily to assist the inquiry and were not depositions.

He said that the material had been passed to all interested parties to help them prepare for the inquest and that it was not to be discussed in a public forum.

Mr O'Donnell said Mr Halappanavar's legal team would comply with all their responsibilities under law.

Earlier, Mr Halappanavar's solicitor said he hoped the inquest into the death of Mrs Halappanavar would deliver the truth.

Speaking as he arrived at Galway Courthouse for the opening of the inquest, Gerard O'Donnell said his client had always sought the truth about what happened to his wife while she was in the care of the State.

He said he had never doubted Mr Halappanavar when he said that his wife had requested a termination of pregnancy.

The solicitor said it would be proven, when the inquest is over, that that was exactly what happened.

When asked if the inquest would satisfy demands for a full public inquiry, he said it was difficult to say until he "saw the flow" of the proceedings.

He said he would be insisting that everybody who had any act or part in Mrs Halappanavar's care give evidence before the inquest, but that was ultimately a matter for the coroner.