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Widow challenges Dublin County Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty’s cannabis verdict

A widowed mother-of-six has brought a High Court challenge to a coroner’s finding that cannabis smoking contributed to the death of her young husband from a heart attack.

Fiona Byrne, wife of the late Paul Byrne (37), who died in November 2005, has described as “perverse cannabis is safeand irrational” a finding by Dublin County Coroner, Dr Kieran Geraghty, that her husband died by misadventure by reason of, and/or significantly contributed to, the fact that traces of cannabis resin were found in his system.

Her husband was not a chronic user of cannabis but did smoke it in an attempt to alleviate the constant pain from which he suffered, Ms Byrne said.

In her action, Ms Byrne, Glenshane Grove, Tallaght, Dublin, claims Dr Geraghty, when considering his findings, failed to consider several matters, including research rejecting links between smoking cannabis and heart attacks.

She also claims he failed to properly take into account Mr Byrne’s medical history, including that he was being treated for high cholesterol and had been waiting for about a month for an “urgent” appointment for an MRI scan following the discovery of a blood clot in his leg.

She has asked the High Court to judicially review Dr Geraghty’s finding, based on a pathologist’s report, that traces of cannabis found in Mr Byrne’s system were sufficient to have induced and/or contributed to the onset of the heart attack.

She also claimed the coroner had not taken into account the possible effect on Mr Byrne of having to wait some 40 minutes for an ambulance to bring him from his home to Tallaght Hospital on the day of his death – November 9th 2005.

Dr Geraghty has denied the claims and said the “opinion” about cannabis use was not put before him at the inquest and he did not have an opportunity to consider it when making his decision. Ms Byrne failed to put before the inquest sufficient evidence his decision as to cannabis being a secondary cause of death was at variance with reason and common sense, it was argued.

The case concluded today before Mr Justice John Hedigan who reserved judgment.

Alan Toal BL, for Ms Byrne, argued the coroner’s findings flew in the face of modern scientific research.

People can overdose on cocaine, heroin and alcohol, but there was no evidence they can do so on cannabis, counsel said.

By including cannabis as a contributory cause of death, it was being suggested Mr Byrne in some way acted “by his own hand” in causing his death, Mr Toal said. This was something Mr Byrne’s family could not accept.

Mr Toal said a report from Dr Bill Tormey, a consultant chemical pathologist at Beaumont Hospital, said the coroner’s finding the cannabis traces induced or contributed to the heart attack was incompatible with scientific evidence suggesting cannabis can have a “protective role” against heart attack. Dr Tormey said it was “fanciful in the extreme” to call this a misadventure, counsel said.

Ms Byrne has also complained the coroner did not pay any deference to her during the inquest and had addressed her father-in-law on the day rather than herself. She attended the inquest in the hope of getting answers as to her husband’s untimely death but Dr Geraghty failed to ask her whether she wished to be heard or represented, she claimed.

After her father-in-law complained about the time the ambulance took to get to his son, Dr Geraghty instead addressed comments to her father in law as to whether he wanted the inquest to proceed or be adjourned, she said. Her father in law was not authorised to speak on her behalf and the inquest then proceeded at “whirlwind” speed, she complained.