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Inquest hears man lay dead inside boarded up derelict house in Mallow for 22 years

A local authority boarded up a derelict house while a dead man lay inside more than a decade after his family members raised concerns with gardaí after calling to the apparently abandoned house and getting no answer.

The revelations at the inquest on Wednesday into Tim O'Sullivan's tragic death prompted a plea from his family for an overhaul of the derelict sites system and other protocols to prevent future similar tragedies.

The inquest into the circumstances of his death heard how skeletal human remains were found fully clothed in a bed in his derelict and boarded-up house at 9 Beecher St, in Mallow, Co Cork, last January.

But investigations established that he actually died in the house 22-years ago — sometime between January 9 and January 23, 2001, aged 62 — and that his remains lay undiscovered until the grim find by council workers on January 13, 2023.

Coroner for North Cork, Dr Michael Kennedy, heard how one of Mr O’Sullivan’s sisters contacted local gardaí with concerns about her brother after she called to the house in mid-2003 and got no answer, and that Cork County Council first received complaints about the condition of the house more than a decade later.

The inquest was told that local Cllr John Paul O’Shea emailed local council officials on December 28, 2014 expressing concerns about a broken window at the house, and asked if ownership of the property could be established.

It would later emerge that even at that stage, Mr O’Sullivan had been lying dead inside for more than 14 years.

Council official John O’Dell, who works in a section with responsibility for derelict sites, said ownership of the property could not be established because it was not listed on the land registry He said by January 21, 2015, the council had boarded up the broken window, as well as other windows of the house, and its letterbox.

He said an external visual inspection of a property is usually carried out to determine if it’s derelict or not, and that council staff who boarded up the Beecher St house would have had no reason or authority to enter it at the time.


The inquest was told that a few years later, neighbours complained to the council about vermin infestation and Mr O’Dell said he requested the clearance of an area at the back of number 9.

But Dr Kennedy was told that when council workers went to the house about four years ago to prepare for the clearance, lack of access to the rear of the property prevented the work from being carried out.

More complaints followed from neighbours about vermin and the council decided to make a forced entry to number 9, and to change the locks to allow a pest control firm to access the property. The council alerted gardaí to the plan.

Council driver, Paul O’Donoghue, said he and colleagues, Mick Carroll and Eugene Cullinane, arrived at house at around 11.15am on January 13, 2023 to change the locks.

Mr O’Donoghue, who has worked with the council for 40-years and lived in Mallow all his life, said he knew the house was derelict for a number of years but did not know who lived in it, and had never seen anybody entering or leaving it.

John O'Dell and Paul O'Donoughue, members of Cork County council who discovered the remains. Picture: Denis Boyle
John O'Dell and Paul O'Donoughue, members of Cork County council who discovered the remains. Picture: Denis Boyle

He drilled the lock on the front door but said they then had difficulty opening the door.

“We found it very hard to push the door, we need all the strength to push it in,” he said.

In the hallway, he said they found a large mound of post, brochures and leaflets, and using a head-lamp, he decided to conduct a sweep of the dark interior, including a bedroom which was down a step and to the left of the hallway.

He went to the bedroom door and told the inquest: “I could see a bed in the middle of the floor.

“I then saw a shape of legs under the duvet, and a coat laid on top.

“I worked my way up the legs with the headlamp as my assistance as it was dark, right up to the head.

“I then realised it was a human body. I did this twice fast to make sure what I saw.” He went back outside to his colleagues, and said:

I’m not 100% sure but I think I saw a body on the bed.

All three men entered the house again, stood at the door of the bedroom, and agreed to raise the alarm immediately with gardaí.

Garda Siobhan Costello arrived a short time later and confirmed the presence of skeletal remains under a blanket on the bed. Only the head was visible.

She said from an initial inspection of the house, there were no signs of a break-in and nothing else of a suspicious nature, but the house was declared a crime scene and sealed off for a garda forensic examination.

Local GP Dr Marian O’Donovan was called to the scene and pronounced death at 2.18pm.

The remains were then removed with the help of firefighters for transport by undertakers to the city morgue at Cork University Hospital (CUH), where assistant state pathologist, Dr Margot Bolster, conducted an autopsy on the as-yet-unknown individual.

She told Dr Kennedy that given the advanced state of decomposition of the remains, she could not establish an exact cause of death, but she confirmed there were no signs of trauma or foul play.

Formal identification

The inquest heard how formal identification of the remains was made quickly, thanks to documents recovered from the house by gardaí and dental records.

In a report, Professor Paul Brady, a consultant oral surgeon and dean of CUH’s dental school and hospital, said he and a colleague, Dr Eoin Gough, an SHO in the dental hospital, attended the autopsy, examined the teeth and took a number of x-rays.

Sgt Eileen Kelly said when gardaí searched the house, they recovered a receipt from a local dentist, which allowed Prof Brady to compare the teeth from the remains with charts from the practice of retired Mallow dentist, Dr Peter Cudmore.

Prof Brady said they were a good match and in his opinion, the remains were those of Tim O’Sullivan.

Sgt Kelly said gardaí also recovered a copy of a birth cert, a passport, legal correspondence in relation to title deeds to the house, bank and social welfare documents, a utility bill, receipts from dentists Peter Cudmore and the Royal Dental Hospital, and a Tesco club card, all of which indicated the deceased was Tim O’Sullivan.

They also found a diary in the house with entries made on January 9, 10 and 11, 2001.

The entry for January 9 read: “Going to Tesco today, first time.” They also found a Tesco receipt for that day.

A formal data request to the Department of Social Protection established that Mr O’Sullivan had been in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance from October 4, 2000 to January 23, 2001.

Sgt Kelly told the coroner that the department closed the claim automatically on January 23, 2001, when three successive payments went unclaimed.

Gardaí also recovered two separate quantities of cash from the house – old Irish pounds to the value of some €8,000 and a second much smaller sum of cash.

A candle on the window sill of the boarded-up vacant house on Beecher street, Mallow where the body was found. Picture: Dan Linehan
A candle on the window sill of the boarded-up vacant house on Beecher street, Mallow where the body was found. Picture: Dan Linehan

The inquest established that Mr O’Sullivan was born to Michael and Molly O’Sullivan in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, on September 29, 1939, and was the eldest of their five children.

His parents emigrated to the UK a short time after his birth, and his siblings were all born in the UK – Noreen, who now lives in Australia, a brother, Pat, who lives in Monaghan, Denis, who is deceased, and Maureen, who lives in Cahirsiveen.

Tim visited Cahirsiveen regularly in his younger years but lived most of his adult life in the UK where he was married to a Barbara Johnston, from London.

In a statement, Maureen said not long before their mother died in January 1990, Tim moved back to Ireland and that Ms Johnston relocated to the UK a short time later.

She said she knew her brother’s address in Mallow and they wrote to each other regularly, but she said a year or two after their mother died, Tim stopped writing back and she presumed that he had gone back to England.

In her statement, Noreen said she and her husband always got a Christmas card in Australia from Tim.

“But in 2002 we did not,” she said.

When the couple were visiting relatives in Ireland in July 2003, Noreen said they decided to call to Tim’s house in Mallow in an effort to trace him.

“We tried knocking on the door but received no answer and we looked through the windows to see if there was any sign that Tim was living there and we could see into the living area and it looked like nobody had been living there for a while,” she said.

“Even though there were things on the table they looked like they hadn't been disturbed in a while.” 

They spoke to neighbours and to people in the pub across the road who said they hadn’t seen Tim for a while.

Noreen said they then went to local gardaí where a male officer seemed to know who they were talking about, and who said he presumed that Tim had gone back to the UK.

She said when they left, they assumed gardaí would investigate the matter but she said when she phoned the garda a week later, he had no further information.

I always presumed that the garda had actually taken some action to investigate our enquiry before coming to their conclusion. I expected that they had gone into the house but obviously no-one did.

Dr Kennedy said the family could take some small consolation from the fact that all the evidence in this sad and unusual case points to the fact that Mr O’Sullivan died a peaceful death in bed.

Mr O’Sullivan was later buried with relatives in Kerry.