Helen Whitwell literally wrote the book on head injuries. The professor of forensic pathology at the University of Sheffield is, in the words of the second Morris report, “one of the leading forensic pathologists in Great Britain”.
Professor Whitwell’s evidence at the Morris tribunal hearings in Donegal in the summer of 2003 was compelling. Put simply, Richie Barron died as a result of a hit and run by a motor vehicle.
“The most likely causes of the initial impact to the back of the head are either a bumper of a car or an extended wing mirror of a vehicle such as a lorry. Both these have broad flat surfaces capable of inflicting such an injury when the vehicle is travelling at speed,” she concluded in a joint report with her colleague, Dr Philip Lumb.
The two home office pathologists added that it would be “extremely difficult” an assault to cause the injury to the back of the unfortunate Mr Barron’s head, causing horrific injuries and crushing the rear of his skull into over 20 pieces.
Irish State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy agreed with the British experts. Their findings echoed precisely her own conclusion that Richie Barron’s injuries were consistent with a car collision. Her predecessor, Prof John Harbison had reached the same conclusion after examining Mr Barron’s remains following the exhumation arranged by the Carty team sent to Donegal to investigate the complaints of the McBrearty family.
Unfortunately, none of these expert opinions were available in 1996 and 1997 when an “emotionally consumed” garda investigation decided that Richie Barron was murdered. The only medical evidence available at the time came from Letterkenny hospital pathologist Dr David Barry. He concluded accurately but unhelpfully that “death was due in my opinion to head injuries.
At the time Harbison was state pathologist. He was not asked to come to Donegal to give a definitive opinion on the cause of these head injuries. The funeral went ahead, and without evidence, rumour and prejudice drove the investigation with disastrous consequences. Having listened objectively to the evidence, Justice Frederick Morris was in no doubt what really happened. Not only was there “no forensic pathology report to support the belief that Mr. Barron had died as a result of an assault”, but with the benefit of the work of the forensic experts, it was clear that there was “no possibility that the Late Richard Barron met his death in any other way than by collision with the roadway caused as a result of impact with some kind of a vehicle.
Despite this, Donegal North East TD Dr Jim McDaid told the Donegal Democrat on Wednesday he “cannot understand how Judge Morris and the media come to a conclusive decision that this was a motor vehicle accident.”
“I have read all of the four forensic reports brought forward by the five forensic experts and nobody seems to have looked at these reports in any detail,” he added.
“If they had, as I have, they would see that not one of the five forensic experts who examined Mr Barron’s body came to the conclusive decision that this was entirely due to a motor vehicle accident.”
“All of them state there is the probability or the possibility that it was either a motor vehicle accident or an assault. Judge Morris seems to be convinced that this was a motor vehicle accident, but this is not in keeping with the forensic evidence.
Before entering politics, McDaid worked as a general practitioner in Letterkenny. How he could misinterpret the scientific language of the forensic reports is difficult to see. Phrases like “most unlikely” and “highly unlikely” pepper their opinions when asked if an assault could cause Richie Barron’s injuries. “I have never seen that scenario with this pattern of injury,” was Prof Whitwell’s conclusion when asked about the possibility of assault.
[Footnote: Prof Whitwell has literally written the book. ‘Forensic Neuropathology’, published by Hodder Arnold, released in September 2005.]