The family of a Burnley man who was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs in Burnley may never know whether he fell or was pushed.
East Lancashire Coroner Mr Richard Taylor recorded a narrative verdict following a four-day inquest into the death of Mr Brendan Lally at Burnley Town Hall.
His family, led by his sister Patricia Hesketh, had asked Mr Taylor not to return a verdict of accidental death.
Mr Taylor said: “Brendan Lally is described as a decent bloke, a gentleman. He’s been spoken of kindly. He drank far too much and, in doing so, met these like-minded people.
“I am not surprised Mrs Hesketh thinks it was not an accident. It seems these beliefs and concerns will always be with her.”
The hearing heard from several witnesses, including five people who were at first arrested on suspicion of murder following Mr Lally’s death on Hallowe’en last year.
Mr Lally (51), who was a heavy drinker, was one of four people who had been drinking or taking drugs at a house in Reed Street. He was found at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of blood shortly before 11pm.
Pathologist Dr Naomi Carter said Mr Lally died from a broken neck and head injuries. He was almost four times the drink-drive limit and had a variety of injuries consistent with a man of his lifestyle.
She said she could not exclude the possibility he had been pushed down the stairs.
The inquest was told neighbours heard shouting and arguing and a loud bang on the evening Mr Lally died.
Mr Bernard Tennant, who was renting the house, said he was upstairs with his girlfriend Wendy Brennan and Mr Lally went upstairs to have a drink of cider with them. Mr Tennant said he was arguing with Miss Brennan because she had lied to him about taking heroin.
He said he had seen Mr Lally unsteady on his feet before.
Other witnesses told the inquest they heard Mr Tennant “ranting and raving” on the evening of October 31st because he thought someone had stolen money and drugs from him. Mr Tennant said he had no issues with Mr Lally and they were friends, though other witnesses claimed to have seen them arguing in the street earlier that day.
One neighbour also said she heard Mr Tennant say to Miss Brennan: “I’m not going down for your murder.” But Mr Tennant denied he made the comment.
Coroner Mr Taylor asked Mr Tennant: “Is there a possibility he was at the top of the stairs looking down into the gloom and someone could’ve brushed past him going to the loo or something?”
Mr Tennant replied: “They could’ve done, yes.”
After being arrested and questioned by police, Mr Tennant and Miss Brennan were bailed until February but no charges were brought against them in relation to Mr Lally’s death.
The inquest heard the stairs in the house were extremely steep, there was no lighting, except for a string of blue fairy lights, and the carpet was poorly fitted and loose in places.
Miss Brennan told the hearing she could not remember much of what happened on October 31st. She said she was upstairs with Mr Tennant and Mr Lally joined them for a drink. She said she asked Mr Lally if he wanted to stay but he said he was going home and left the bedroom.
She said the next thing she heard was Mr Tennant shouting that Mr Lally was at the bottom of the stairs. She said Mr Tennant had been in the room with her when Mr Lally left to go home and she said she had not heard him falling down the stairs.
The hearing had already been told Mr Lally was found by Cody Kay, a friend of Miss Brennan’s daughter, who had called at the house to check on Miss Brennan after she heard shouting coming from the house. As she made to go upstairs she came across the body. She called 999 and police and paramedics arrived and Mr Lally was pronounced dead at the scene.
Giving evidence to the inquest, Det. Insp. Andrew Hulme, from Lancashire Constabulary’s major investigation team, said the force had done everything possible to invesigate Mr Lally’s death. He said the house had been examined by crime scene forensic investigators for signs of a struggle or an assault but none had been found.
“This is a difficult case, a tragic case of someone with alcohol dependency. While there are a number of potential motives for murder or assault, there is no evidence there has been any assault or how the fall occurred.”
Mr Taylor said some of the evidence he had heard was unreliable and unhelpful, particularly that given by Mr Tennant and Miss Brennan.
But he praised the witness Cody Kay who discovered Mr Lally’s body and called 999 and performed CPR in a bid to try to save him. He said she should be commended for her actions.