Northern Ireland: Gay rights campaigner in fatal overdose hours after homophobic assault

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

An inquest has heard police took three hours to gain entry to a flat where a gay man had taken an overdose.

Terry McCartney, a 42-year-old gay rights campaigner, was found dead in his flat in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on 5 February 2013.

At 2.50 am, on the morning of his death, he had been in an altercation with a group of men at Shipquay Gate, and was punched to the ground in a suspected homophobic assault, however, his injuries were not major.

After a post mortem police ruled that his death was not suspicious.

At an inquest the Belfast Telegraph reports Mr McCartney had taken a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.

The coroner heard that an hour before his body was found, Mr McCartney’s sister Caroline Ferry found a Facebook message from him that read: “Thank you for everything. Tell mum I’m sorry.”

The inquest heard that police had received an emergency call at 6.30am on 5 February, 2013 from Mr McCartney’s friend, Christine Hegarty.

She was very distressed after a telephone conversation she had just had with him, in which Mr McCartney told her repeatedly: “It’s too late, it’s over.”

A short time into the call Mr McCartney’s speech became very slurred and he started making gurgling noises and could be heard gasping for air.

Ms Hegarty told the court she then used a second phone to call the police while trying to keep her friend talking.

But she ended the call to Mr McCartney on the advice of police — without having obtained an exact address for him on John Street.

Police were dispatched 10 minutes after Ms Hegarty made the call.

But it then took officers several hours to find the right flat.

A Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer told the court there was no policy or procedure for keeping contact details for keyholders to apartment blocks in the city, or on how to gain entry to them.

By the time police gained entry to Mr McCartney’s flat at around 9.30am, he was already dead.

Coroner Jim Kitson, Kitson voiced his concern about the delay, saying: “If something like this happened in the city tonight does it not concern you that you would not be able to gain entry?”

The officer said it was a matter of concern but added: “There is a large number of apartments in the city so it would be quite a task to actually go around and get codes into all of them.”

Mr Kitson said that this failure to gain entry “was one factor in this case”. He ruled that Mr McCartney had died as a result of choking.

He said this had been brought on by a failure of his gag reflexes due to the effects of the high levels of alcohol and prescription drugs in his body.

“Having heard from Terry’s family and friend Christine and from his GP it is clear that Terry was a gentleman who clearly had issues around substance abuse who had previous indulged in self harm and had attempted suicide,” said the coroner.

“I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that this was a serious suicide attempt, but was a cry for help.”

Mr McCartney’s substance abuse was confirmed in a statement from his GP who also provided evidence that Mr McCartney had a history of self-harm and previous suicide attempts.

Terry McCartney’s grieving mother wept as she listened to the inquest.

Margaret McCartney, who is wheelchair bound, was comforted by her family during proceedings.

Mr McCartney’s death was a severe blow to the McCartney family, which lost another son to suicide over a decade ago.