The mother of a Belfast DJ, who died in the city almost five years ago, first learned her son was in hospital from a TV news report.
erard McMahon (36), who was from the Short Strand area and worked under the name DJ Macko, died in the Royal Victoria Hospital on September 8, 2016.
His death came hours after he was detained by police who responded to what was described at the time as a “violent incident” in Great Victoria Street.
Officers had been called to the scene close to the Grand Opera House and Europa Hotel after reports that Mr McMahon had been behaving erratically.
He had earlier been observed in a confrontation with nightclub bouncers after being escorted from the premises.
Mr McMahon had spent more than two-and-a-half hours walking through the city centre and interacting with various individuals before arriving at a taxi rank at around 5am.
His condition quickly deteriorated and police administered first aid until an ambulance arrived at the scene.
Paramedics used a defibrillator, but they were unable to save Mr McMahon, who died in hospital later that evening.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office (PONI) launched an investigation into the actions of police on the night in question after saying it “appeared that CS spray was used”.
They interviewed the police officers involved in the restraint under caution, took a significant number of witness statements and secured CCTV footage of the restraint.
A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service in October 2019 and a full inquest into Mr McMahon’s death was scheduled to take place in February 2020, but was postponed.
The PPS later wrote to the McMahon family confirming that a decision was made not to prosecute any of the three officers involved in the restraint.
The inquest, which began on Monday, is scheduled to run for several weeks before coroner Joe McCrisken.
It will explore the circumstances surrounding Mr McMahon’s death and consider evidence from the police officers involved in the restraint alongside various civilian and expert witnesses.
His mother Ella told the hearing that Gerard, who was the eldest of her three children, was a “very happy go lucky” young man and “settled in life”.
She described him as a “guy that anyone would have been proud of to have as their son”.
Under questioning by Sean Doran QC for the coroner, Mrs McMahon said that around a year before his death, Gerard received stab injuries and was bitten by a dog during an incident at a house party in Newry, after which he became “withdrawn”.
“He didn’t go out for weeks afterwards and his DJ work just went to the side. You could see him gradually just not being the same person that he was,” Mrs McMahon recalled.
Mr McMahon, a single father-of-two, was a qualified motor mechanic but had been working as a courier driver in the months before his death.
Ella McMahon said she had “deep concerns” for her son’s well-being in the weeks before his death due to his drug use.
“He accepted that his drug use had become a problem and agreed to get help.
“Cocaine was not agreeing with him and it was making him paranoid,” she said.
Mrs McMahon said she was concerned when her son went out on the night before his death but he assured her that he was “only going out for a few hours to meet friends and wouldn’t be too late”. She revealed that she only learned what had happened to her son a few hours later on the early morning news.
“I had been up doing things and heard it on the 7.30am news.
“Gerard hadn’t come in – he wasn’t in his bed. I knew straight away that there was a 90% possibility that it was him they were talking about.
“No matter what, he always came home,” she added.
Mrs McMahon said she and her family went to the hospital after a lunchtime news update said the patient’s condition was “deteriorating”.
She had spent several hours unsuccessfully trying to confirm if it was her son in hospital with police and hospital staff.
“When we got to the hospital I knew I had been right and that it was him,” Mrs McMahon added.
The inquest later viewed CCTV footage from a nightclub in the hours before Mr McMahon died which showed him in an altercation with door staff.
A witness statement, previously made to PONI, described seeing Mr McMahon outside “in a world of his own” and “with his trousers and boxer shorts down” and “sweating from head to toe”.
Others recalled seeing him in a “very heavy handed” struggle with door staff, hearing him screaming and seeing blood.
The inquest continues.