The Death of Patrick Nugent
In February of last year, a party was held at the Folk Park near Bunratty Castle in County Clare. 'Over sixty people attended. When the party was over, there were less than a dozen people left behind and the function manaager, Patrick Nugent, was dead. There is evidence to suggest that a car acciident may have had something to do with his death. But nobody there on that night admitted to seeing what happened. William Ryan was afterwards charged with manslaughter. Last month, he was acquitted on all counts. By Derek Dunne
There are still many unanswered questions about the death of Patrick.
Nugent. The fact that two gardai who were at the party apparently tried to cover up something from the initial garda investigation fostered suspicion about the circumstances in which Patrick Nugent died. The recent trial of William Ryan has not cleared that suspicion in the minds of his family, 'or indeed locally.
1. The Death
THE PARTY TOOK PLACE ON A FRIDAY. Patrick Nugent drove his Datsun Cherry from his home at Sixmilebridge, County Clare, to Bunratty Castle. He was the function manager and he started to arrange the food for the guests. There was to be hot and cold food, drink and music. Chef Griffm from Shannon would be looking after the cooking. Pat's job was to make sure the entire affair ran smoothly.
At around 11am on Friday February 11 1984, he left the Castle to collect shrubs and plants to liven the place up. He went home for a few minutes during the day and later on, at 3pm, William and Chrissie Ryan saw him. It was their party. Ryan worked as a chef in Shannon, had done so for thirty -five years. It was his fortieth wedding anniversary.
The two men talked about how things were progressing.
The Ryans had a drink and drove on into Shannon to do some shopping. The proprietor of the Knights Inn gave them a present. They drove home and then directly on to the Folk Park attached to Bunratty Castle. It was 7.15pm and the gates were still locked. Peter Kavanagh was the bannquet manager at Bunratty and he let them in. William Ryan parked his car in front of the reception area. Inside the reception area itself, the guests would be offered claret before making their way to the function room proper for a meal. The bar would be open and a three-piece band would play. Some of the guests would do party turns, William Ryan would make a speech. The measures would not be ordinary bar measures - the spirits would be just poured into the glasses.
Detective Garda Eugene Quinlan and his wife Alison were the very first guests to arrive. He had been a garda for twenty-one years, was a neighbour of the Ryans, and had known them for nineteen years. Just before they went in, the Quinlans had a drink in nearby Durty Nellies.
The guests enjoyed the party. Drink was served liberally and the meal was more or less over at l Ipm, All the food left over was cleared, put into a van and locked away. Everything would be returned to Shannon. The guests were given anniversary cake as well. William Ryan told some of his guests at the end of his speech that they were welcome to take home left over sweets if they wished. People danced as the band played on, finishing with the national anthem at around 3am.
Patrick Nugent was in and out of the function room as the guests began to leave. Ashtrays, bottles, candles and glasses were all being cleared away. Around 4am, there were no more than a dozen people left. William Ryan and his wife decided to leave. Patrick Nugent left the room. Shortly afterwards, a crash was heard, then roaring.
Those who rushed out to the reception area, where the noise had come from, were later to give different accounts of what they had seen. Patrick Nugent was holding his stomach in obyious pain, collapsed on the ground.
Outside the reception area, William Ryan's car appeared to have hit a car belonging to another guest, Garda Jim Cummins. It was agreed that the two men would fix the matter up between themselves. Ryan was encouraged to go home. He had no knowledge of seeing or hitting Patrick Nugent.
The two gardai tried to revive Nugent when he became unconscious. 011\ observer heard Nugent say before he died, "He clocked me." He said it three times. A doctor and ammbulance arrived and Patrick Nugent was taken to Barringtons Hospital in Limerick. He was pronounced dead at 5.15am.
William Ryan gave three statements to the gardai. He was then charged with manslaugh ter, dangerous driving and failing to keep his vehicle at the scene of an accident. When the case came to trial, the manslaughter charge was withhdrawn by the State. The jury found William Ryan 'not guilty' on the other two counts.
2. Patrick Nugent
AT THE RELATIVELY YOUNG AGE OF twenty-three, Patrick Nugent had 'made good'. As a function manager at Bunratty Castle, he was an example of how one could get on in life and he held a position to which many of his contemporaries aspired. He held a responsible position. If he worked hard, kept his nose clean, he would be promoted in time. There were no limits on where he could go. It hadn't always been like that.
He was one of three boys, and the son of a small farmer.
He had been working on and off at Shannon and Bunratty for ten or eleven years - school holidays, weekends, that sort of thing. He was employed mainly in the kitchens. When he was fifteen, he left school and worked at Bunratty, cooking for the banquets that cater mainly for American tourists. He was a hard worker, diligent.
William Ryan was a chef there and he picked out Nugent to train. They got on well together but after about four years, Patrick got fed up with the work. Conditions, he decided, were bad and he wanted to move on. He took a job at a store in Ennis. When he went back to Bunratty to look for a reference, he was offered a position as a van driver. Bunratty said they would pay for him to take driving lessons. He stayed driving for almost two years. He was still involved in the banquets at Bunratty and Knappogue Castles. He made a lot of money for the company with those bannquets. He was finally promoted to function manager. He had time for very little except those banquets, which took up most of his time.
Sometimes he went out with his girlfriend. He was plannning to get married, travel to England and Australia to visit relatives. He could get cheap flights from the company. That went with the job. He was only one of hundreds, the sons of small farmers and tradesmen who had made good at Shannon. Shannon has changed the lives of an awful lot of people. There is an aura about the place. If you are emmployed at Shannon, there isn't a limit on where you can go. Shannon is the focal point for upward social mobility in the region.
Where Patrick Nugent worked, there were at least 70,000 visitors a year. They either came to Bunratty Castle, or to one of the functions in the nearby barns.
Chef William Ryan was forty years married, and had worked for thirty-five years at Shannon. He was going to invite about sixty people to a party at the Folk Park to celebrate. All the food and drink would be supplied by the company and he would pick up the bill. It was going to be special. People he had known for decades, friends, relatives, and a few executives from Shannon would be there. He knew that Patrick Nugent would do a good job. He asked him to take charge of the party. Patrick Nugent agreed.
When Patrick Nugent was killed, rumours of cover up started to emerge. It was implied that he had been killed and that somehow William Ryan had been "set up".
3. The Medicals and Forensic
DR BENNETT IS A PATHOLOGIST AND HE carried out a post mortem on Patrick Nugent on that Saturday. He found a bruise on his left cheekbone, a linear bruise on his right arm and bruises on the back, just above the hips. The liver was rupptured and the right lobe was minutely fragmented. There was also bruising of the right kidney, pancreas and adrenaaline gland. Eight ribs were fractured. The apex of the heart was bruised. In Dr Bennett's opinion, the death was connsistent with a crushing injury and being struck by a car. Failure of heart and lungs was the cause of death. However, he also said that Patrick Nugent was not erect when he was hit. He was in a "crouching" position or lying on the ground. But in order for this to happen, Patrick Nugent would have had to be in a position about eighteen inches off the ground without bending his knees. Otherwise, there would have been damage to his legs. There were no injuries on Nugent's arms, indicating that he had not put out his arms in a reflex action to protect himself against an oncoming car.
Dr Michael Flynn had made a cursory examination of the body and had found small scratches on the small of the back. ' .
Dr Sheila Willis has been employed by the Department of Justice as a forensic scientist for the past six years. She~ said that the damage to the clothing of Patrick Nugent was "slight to that normally encountered in traffic accident victims." She found a smear of paint from Ryan's car embedded on the lower right sleeve of Nugent's jacket. There were also friction marks on the lower right front of the jacket and paint, both associated with the car of Garda Jim Cummins, who was also at the party. There was also a smear of paint from Ryan's car on the waistband of Nugent's trousers. Ryan's car was unusual in that the paint would come off the car with a wipe. There were friction marks and whitewash on Nugent's left shoe, but the whitewash came from inside the barn and thus could not have anything to do with a car incident outside.
In Dr Willis' opinion, Patrick Nugent was struck by Ryan's car and crushed against the wall of the barn after Ryan's car had hit Cummins' car. She was also of the opinion that Nugent was near the ground when he was struck. She said that the impact between Ryan's car and the wall was very slight.
The only other evidence linking the dead man to any of the cars was the impression of fabric on Ryan's bonnet. This measured approximately two inches by two inches. It wasn't measured. There was no actual fabric present.
On the balance of probability, Patrick Nugent was lying on the ground when he was struck. No one knows how he came to be lying on the ground. This lack of knowledge was compounded by an attempted cover-up by the two garrdai who had been at the party.
Suggestions were made that Eugene Quinlan and another guest, Gerard O'Connor, were having a fight and Nugent went over to break it up. Both men denied in court th-at they had any row during the night. William Ryan said that he saw a "ferocious argument" going on between two men. A barman at the party said he thought the two men were also having a disagreement earlier on in the night.
4. The Cover Up
TWO GARDAI IN A PATROL CAR ARRIVED at the Folk Park shortly after the ambulance left at 5.l5ain. Garda John Talty asked what had happened but no one was willing to answer.
Jim Cummins said something about Patrick Nugent getting a heart attack. Talty went outside and Eugene Quinlan told him that there wasn't a mark on the body. At one stage, Jim Cummins put his two wrists together and said "you're coming for me lads."
"Come on lads. What the fuck happened here? Do you think we're idiots," Garda Talty told the two men. He then asked Cummins what had happened his car. Cummins replied that William Ryan had hit it and that they were going to fix it up between themselves. Quinlan called Talty aside into a small room and again told him that there wasn't a mark on the body. Patrick Crowe came into the room and was asked to leave. He was keyholder for the Folk Park and had been called to the area by the gardai. The alarm had been set off when the ambulance was called. When Crowe left the room, Quinlan told Talty to "do the best you can for Jim's sake." Garda Talty admitted in court that he did not enquire what ''you're coming for me lads" or "do the best you can for Jim's sake" meant.
Around 7am, the gardai called to Joe Nugent at Sixmileebridge. He was told that his son had died of a heart attack. To Joe Nugent's best knowledge, his son had never attennded a doctor in his life. He was then asked if anyone had it in for him.
The circumstances surrounding the killing were such as to breed rumours locally. Intense garda investigations were hampered somewhat by a refusal by some people to coooperate fully. The head of the Investigation Section of the Technical Bureau in Dublin, Detective Superintendent John Courtney, took charge of the investigation after five days. A week later, he arranged for William Ryan to be brought to the garda station. He indicated to him that the forensic report showed that his car was involved in the incident which caused injuries to Patrick Nugent and eventually led to his death. Ryan made a third statement to the gardai. Even though he said that he had no recollection of hitting Patrick Nugent, he accepted that this must be so because of the evidence. He was then charged with manslaughter, dangerous driving and failing to keep his vehicle at the scene of an accident. Notice to prosecute had previously been served on Ryan. It had also been served on Jim Cummmins. No charges were preferred against Cummins.
The gardai had also been told by Pat Crowe that Declan O'Neill had said that Nugent's last words were "he clocked me". At no time was there any attempt made by Cummins and Quinlan to link Patrick Nugent to the traffic accident that had taken place.
5. Declan O'Neill
DECLAN O'NEILL HAD STARTED WORK AT three that afternoon. He had worked in the kitchen until midnight. Around 4am, Patrick Nugent told him to go and clear up the kitchen.
He was there about five minutes when he heard roaring. He went out to the Function Room and then into the reeception area. Patrick Nugent was lying inside the main door on his back. There was no one else there apart from Alison Quinlan, Eugene Quinlan's wife. Nugent was holding his stomach and said "my stomach" twice. Nugent then said "he clocked me", twice. Declan O'Neill tried to pick him up. Nugent said again "he clocked me". O'Neill looked to his right and saw Detective Quinlan standing there. Accorrding to O'Neill, Quinlan did not come from outside, and neither did he come from inside. Jim Cummins then came along and told him to leave Nugent alone. O'Neill looked out into the courtyard and saw William Ryan and his wife sitting in his car. There were two crashed cars including Ryan's. The second belonged to Garda Cummins.
Both Detective Quinlan and Garda Cummins said that they tried to revive Patrick Nugent when he seemed to pass out. They removed his tie and opened his shirt. Quinlan tried artificial respiration and thought that Nugent's eyes opened and that he was breathing. Garda Cummins had slapped Nugent on the face a couple of times when he realised that he was unconscious. The two men continued the attempts at revival for about ten minutes. Quinlan called a Dr Flynn and an ambulance at 4.30am. The doctor came within fifteen minutes and the ambulance shortly afterrwards. Patrick Nugent was taken to Barringtons Hospital in Limerick. He was pronounced dead at 5.l5am.
There is some conflict about where the cars of the two gardai, Quinlan and Cummins, were parked and at what times. What is clear is that at 4am the cars of Quinlan, Cummmins and William Ryan were parked outside the reception area. Cummins said he parked his car there, having brought it in from the car park, at 3am. Quinlan says he parked his car there between 3.30am and 3.45am. However, three witnesses, Edward Quish, Mrs Titley and Con Ford, all said that when they left at 3.45am only William Ryan's car was parked at reception.
Quillan and Cummins were at various times going and coming from the kitchen, getting food. They were, they said, transferring the food to their cars just outside the reeception area.
What is significant about whether or not the cars were brought in from the car park earlier is that William Ryan said in statements to the gardai that when he got into his car and started it, it jumped forward (it is an automatic). When he struck Cummins' car, he said, it "came out of noowhere" and he thought it was being driven at the time. Jim. Cummins denied this in court. Eugene Quinlan also denied being outside at a time close to 4am.
6. The conlict of evidence
THERE IS A MAJOR CONFLICT OF EVIDENCE between those that remained at the party as to where various people were when the noise was heard first. Detective Garda Eugene Quinlan says he was in the kitchen looking for something to eat, went back into the function room, and from there went to the reception area where there was a crowd gathered. In answering Inspector Drudy shortly after the killing, he said he was sitting .at the table in the function room with Garda Jim Cummins when all the commotion started. When it was poin ted out to him that his wife had said he wasn't in the room, he then changed his story. Detective Quinlan declined to make a formal statement to the gardai and contacted his solicitor. Senior Counsel Patrick McEntee was also engaged. It was over two weeks before he made his formal statement. Teresa and Jim Cummins and Gerard O'Connor say that Quinlan was in the function room when the commotion started. Both the Quinlans agree now that he was not.
Gerard O'Connor says he was in the function room at the bar when the noise occurred. In a statement on the day of the incident, he said that he was going home when he saw Patrick Nugent stretched out on the floor. Two days later, he said he was standing at the bar in the function room with the Quinlans and the Cumminses. When it was put to him on this occasion that he was outside at the time, he agreed that he might have been. He had difficulty reemembering anything when he had drink taken. Almost three weeks later, in yet another statement, he said he was in the function room with both the Quinlans and Cumminses. Teresa Quinlan says he was not at the table. In statements afterwards, she said that O'Connor appeared in the doorrway. According to her, he was already there or just appeared.
At the trial, she said that he was at the door between the function and reception rooms. Teresa and Jim Cummins both agree that O'Connor had left when the commotion started. Gerard O'Connor insists that he was at the bar when the crash occurred. Both Cumminses and Alison Quinlan disagree with that.
Garda Jim Cummins says that he was getting ready to leave when he heard the crash. In a statement after the inncident, he said he was actually leaving the function room at the time. He also said that Eugene Quinlan was with him. In an interview with the gardai, it was put to him that there was a question of the body being moved. He denied this. What he did move was his car. He initially told the gardai that he moved it to make way for the ambulance: He did not, however, move his car until after the ambulance had left. He had, it appears, a problem with his car insurance and following a conversation with Eugene Quinlan moved his car into the public car park.
Eugene Quinlan denied an allegation by Chrissie Ryan that himself, Jim Cummins and Gerard O'Connor had carrried the body of Patrick Nugent across the courtyard into the reception area where it was found. It was also denied that there had been a row between Eugene Quinlan and Gerard O'Connor over membership of a golf club. Any suggestions raised at the trial about the party -goers "cleaning the place out" was also denied.
A week after the incident, William and Chrissie Ryan were brought to Ennis garda station. Gerard O'Connor then came into the room. Chrissie Ryan told him that she saw him taking a body over the door of the reception area to the function room. He denied this and said that it must have been Jim Cummins. Chrissie Ryan said that it was himmself and Eugene Quinlan. Gerard O'Connor told her that she must have been mistaken. Inspector Drudy recreated the scene and was satisfied that it would have been possible for Chrissie Ryan to see what she alleged. The gardai attempted to have Chrissie Ryan meet Eugene Quinlan and Jim Cummmins. The two gardai declined the offer.
THE NUGENT FAMILY ARE STILL VERY unhappy about the circumstances surrounding their son's death. They had expected that the recent trial would bring everything to light and clear the matter up once and for all. They do not feel that this has been done. The forensic evidence suggests that Patrick Nugent was struck by Ryan's car. There was also forensic evidence linking Cummins' car to the death. No satisfactory explanation has been forthcoming to explain why Patrick Nugent was on the ground when hit by the car. The explanations given as to where different people were at the time of the incident are less than clear, but understanddable, given the length and nature of the party. What is unndoubtedly true is the fact that the two gardai at the party, Detective Garda Eugene Quinlan and Garda Jim Cummins were less than forthcoming to the two gardai who initially investigated the occurrence. Detective Quinlan then waited a considerable time, and engaged a solicitor and senior counsel, before he made a formal statement about the matter.
Following the recent acquittal of William Ryan on all counts, a further garda investigation is understood to be under way. • .