Tragic ex-soldier still a ‘young man’

Former RIR soldier Wilfie Holmes was effectively homeless when he died
Former RIR soldier Wilfie Holmes was effectively homeless when he died

An inquest has heard how the life of a former soldier ended when he plunged off a fire escape in Belfast.

Detectives had investigated the death of Wilfred ‘Wilfie’ James Holmes, aged 45, when his body was discovered in a car park in Belfast city centre on September 21 last year.

Exactly why he fell from the fire escape appeared unclear.

However, at a hearing attended by family including his mother yesterday, coroner Joe McCrisken ruled that he had killed himself.

This prompted a response of “that’s nonsense” from one onlooker at the back of Courtroom 5 in Belfast’s Laganside Court complex.

Born in Coleraine, he had been in the Royal Irish Regiment for a few years, after having joined in his late teens. He had lived in Ballymoney, but at time of his death was effectively homeless.

He had worked on building sites, and as a gravedigger.

Just before he died, he had been getting a taxi from Londonderry to Belfast, where he was to stay at a hostel.

A statement from the taxi driver, Peter Doherty, was read to the court. It said that he had appeared “down”, speaking about a breakdown in a relationship and the death of his father before being left off in the city centre.

“I held out my hand,” said the taxi driver. “Instead of shaking it, he gave me a hug. I was surprised, because I didn’t know him.”

He left his belongings, including clothes in plastic shopping bags, at the hostel, and went to the Royal Avenue Tesco Express where he bought groceries. The last he was seen on CCTV was about 6.50pm.

Some time after 10pm his body was found at the Donegall Street car park by a worker at Hadskis restaurant who thought he may have been drunk.

A pathologist, Dr Alistair Bentley, said he suffered a range of injuries including multiple breaks to the neck and injuries to his chest. The neck injuries alone would probably have been enough to kill him.

Both legs were fractured and Dr Bentley believed he may have landed feet first.

He had anti-psychotic drugs in his system, as well as traces of diazepam and enough alcohol to produce “moderate” intoxication, said Dr Bentley.

His liver bore signs consistent with heavy drinking.

Another doctor, Dr Peter Hughes, said his medical file indicated he had overdosed on legal drugs in 1999.

Dr Hughes said Mr Holmes had denied being depressed when speaking to one of his medical colleagues in 2015.

However, Stacy Holmes, his daughter, said he had been a “very depressed man”, and that she had had to clean his wounds after he self-harmed.

The court also heard from a detective, who made reference to the death of Mark Holmes (Wilfie’s brother) who plunged into the Foyle in 2002.

The coroner said he had visited the scene of Mr Holmes’ fall in person, and said: “It seemed to me it’d be extremely difficult to accidentally fall over” the side of the fire escape.

Delivering his findings, the coroner said he was satisfied that Mr Holmes jumped, and that in doing so he intended to end his own life, adding that he could see “no other reason” for what had taken place.

He told the courtroom he was sorry if people present do not accept his conclusion, but that it is was his job to “deliver factual findings based on the evidence”. He offered condolences to his family.

Speaking afterwards, his family said that a number of Mr Holmes’ friends had died by suicide.

His widow Yvonne Holmes (from whom he was separated at the time of his death), said Wilfie had still been a “young man” when he died.

She said she did not think “he ever got over” his brother Mark’s death.

Despite his “demons”, he had been “over the moon” when his children were born, and was “there by their side, always”.

Ultimately, she said he was “a good father – you can’t take that away from him”.

SEEK HELP

If you need to speak to somebody about suicidal thoughts or about struggling to cope, you can contact the Samaritans 24 hours a day, all year round.

Ring 116 123 (or 116 123 if calling from the Republic of Ireland).

You can also ring Lifeline, which similarly operates 24 hours a day all week, on: 0808 808 8000.

If you’re under 19, you can contact Childline on: 0800 1111.