Mystery of man who died after 'relatively minor' head injury
MYSTERY still surrounds the death of a man with a history of alcohol abuse who died of a brain haemorrhage almost two years ago.
An inquest into the death of Robert McColl heard how the long-term alcoholic was found dead in his flat in Melville Street, Torquay, on Saturday, July 24, 2010.
The inquest heard how the 42-year-old Aberdeen-born man, who 'only needed a small amount of alcohol to top himself up because he was so drunk', had been drinking all evening the night before with friends who shared in his lifestyle and used his bedsit to do so.
The inquest was told that at 4am the following day, a man called Alan Duffy, who used the flat, came in and had an altercation with Mr McColl in the kitchen.
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Mr Duffy, who was later arrested in connection with the death, admitted to police investigators that he had 'lost his temper temporarily' and smashed a plate on Mr McColl's head.
However, the inquest heard how despite two postmortem examinations and a lengthy police investigation, it was impossible to link the incident in the kitchen to Mr McColl's death.
DC Julian Morgan, who investigated the case, told the inquest that the deceased, whose cause of death was ascertained as acute subdural hematoma, moved to Devon from Aberdeen some time ago. He had two children with his partner, but when increasing alcohol problems got in the way his relationship broke up.
Mr McColl then moved to Torquay where he lived in various hostels, bedsits or on the street.
DC Morgan said: "Many people used his flat as a place to go to drink. Many people were there on the night he died.
"There was an altercation during that night with Mr Duffy.
"During the course of our investigation and in conjunction with the CPS, we asked for an independent home office pathologist to carry out another postmortem examination and prepare a report.
"In his report Dr Richard Shepherd said that because of gap in the chronology, Mr McColl's lifestyle and the different witness statements, he was unable to link the altercation to the death of Mr McColl."
DC Morgan said there was no evidence to say that Mr McColl had not suffered from an alcohol-induced fall or had been further assaulted while he slept on a mattress and therefore it was not possible to bring any charge against anyone.
Dr Basil Purdue, a pathologist from Exeter, who carried out the first postmortem examination on Mr McColl, told the inquest that apart from an alcohol damaged liver, the deceased had been quite healthy, but was found with small lacerations to the top of his head.
He also had a black eye and small swelling to the face.
Further examinations showed a very large blood clot on the side of the brain which had slowly pushed on his brain.
Toxicology analyses revealed that Mr McColl had 1.37mg of alcohol in his blood which is almost twice over the UK legal drink drive limit.
Dr Purdue told the inquest: "Mr McColl died of serious complication to a comparatively minor head injury. The gradual compression on his brain led to unconsciousness then to his death.
"It was not possible to determine when he received the injuries which led to the bleeding."
Dr Purdue said alcohol was known to affect the way people walk and may have rendered Mr McColl more prone to falls and awkward coordination.
This was confirmed by DC Morgan who said Mr McColl had been seen falling in public because of his alcohol problem.
Recording an open verdict, South Devon and Torbay coroner Ian Arrow said: "Mr McColl suffered a trauma or injury to his head but given his lifestyle it is not clear how this injury came about."