An inquest into the death of a 20-year-old student, whose body was discovered on the Oranmore shoreline last March nearly 38 days after he went missing, returned an open verdict, the Coroner’s Court heard last Thursday.
Michael Hughes, originally from Farragh, Killoe, Co Longford, had been a student at University of Limerick when he had come to Galway on February 19 to celebrate Rag Week with friends. However, after socialising into the early hours in a city centre pub he was reported missing by his mother five days later. A large scale search by gardaí and volunteers then ensued resulting in the grim discovery of his body on March 29.
The Coroner’s Court heard that Mr Hughes had started socialising with two American girls at the NUIG students’ bar at around 3pm, February 19 before going to bar 903 and eventually Supermacs, where they became separated.
Garda Paul McBride said that after Mr Hughes was reported missing a search of CCTV footage showed him at Eyre Square at 1.50am on February 20. Sgt Peter Geraghty from Monivea Garda Station gave evidence that teams consisting of gardaí and volunteers were set up but searches in the city centre gave negative results. The search was then broadened and water unit, dog unit, and air support units were also drafted in to assist in the search. Sgt Geraghty said that CCTV at Debenhams SC showed Mr Hughes walking down Eyre Street towards Woodquay at about 3am on February 20. A coastal search was then carried out from “one side of the city to the other”.
Patrick Quinn, a family friend who was one of the volunteers, found the “clothed remains” on March 29 at 12.50pm and he immediately alerted the rest of the search party. Sgt Martin Walsh, Oranmore Garda Station, said that at 1.15pm he received a call to go to the shoreline on the Coast Road in Oranmore. He said that Mr Hughes still had, in his jeans’ pocket, his black wallet with all his bank cards, identity, and social services cards as well his provisional driving licence. Sgt Walsh then accompanied the body to the morgue at UHG and at 10.30am on March 30 met with consultant pathologist Dr Stephanie Curran.
Dr Curran, who carried out the post mortem examination, said that there had been advanced decomposition but no evidence of trauma. She concluded that the cause of death was asphyxiation secondary to immersion in water. The Coroner’s Court later heard that DNA samples were sent to the Forensics Science Laboratory at the Department of Justice and it was confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that the body was that of Mr Hughes.
After hearing all the evidence, West Galway coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin said that it was difficult to determine the exact cause of death because of the “degree of decomposition”. He said that although the most probable cause of death was drowning it was unclear how Mr Hughes got into the water as there were no witnesses. For this reason an open verdict was returned.