MYSTERY still surrounds the death of a man found collapsed in a back lane in Sunderland.
James Dean McMahon, known as Dean, died four days after he was found bleeding from his ear in Carlisle Terrace, Southwick, on February 4.
His inquest was told that the 33-year-old fell and banged his head on the steep back stairs of a nearby property, causing the fatal injuries.
But his family – including his three sisters and four brothers – still believe he was pushed, something neither a coroner nor a pathologist could definitely rule out.
Two men and a woman with Mr McMahon on the night he died were arrested at the time.
One of the men is still on police bail, while the other man and the woman were given fixed-penalty notices for wasting police time.
The coroner was told that an ambulance was called for Mr McMahon, and paramedics found him with a fractured skull but still conscious.
He was able to tell medics he had drunk alcohol and taken heroin, but he could not explain how he fell, the inquest, held at Newcastle Civic Centre, was told.
After being taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital, former Southwick Primary School pupil Mr McMahon, of no fixed address, was transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where he died on February 8 after having surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain.
Dr Nigel Cooper, the pathologist who performed the post-mortem examination, said there was no evidence Mr McMahon had been assaulted as there were no defensive injuries.
“The brain was irreversibly and severely damaged,” Dr Cooper said. “The cause of death was a blunt head injury.
“Everything I found is consistent with and typical of a fall, with the right side of the back of the head hitting something very hard, like falling down stairs rather than from standing.
“They did operate and removed a blood clot, but the die was more or less cast from the moment he hit his head.”
Mr McMahon’s aunt, Maureen White, put it to Dr Cooper that the family believed he was pushed, to which he replied: “I’m not in a position to exclude that.”
However, Detective Chief Inspector Keith Jewitt said there were no suspicious circumstances as far as he was concerned, adding that Mr McMahon was a functional alcoholic with a history of falling over and hurting himself, including fracturing his skull on one occasion.
The family had previously criticised the amount of time Mr McMahon had to wait before an ambulance finally arrived to take him from Sunderland Royal to the RVI.
North East Ambulance Service risk officer David Edwards apologised to them, saying the service had changed its procedures for dealing with similar cases.
But he said that it would not have made a difference to the outcome.
“We accept that the call for the ambulance wasn’t handled as it should have been,” he said.
“We were outside the 30-minute target, and for that, we apologise.”
Mr Edwards added that following the incident, the transfer of a critically-ill patient in intensive care has been upgraded to the highest priority, with a response target of eight minutes.
Newcastle assistant coroner Andrew Hetherington recorded a narrative conclusion, saying: “James Dean McMahon fell on stairs, suffering a serious head injury, which led to his death.
“The circumstances leading to the fall are unclear.”
Speaking after the inquest, Dean’s mum Sharon McMahon, 51, of Fulwell, said: “I’ve lost my son. He was an alcoholic, but he was so funny. His heart was in the right place.
“My mum and dad brought him up. He was a mischievous lad, as they are, but he was caring.”
She added: “I’m not happy with the ambulance service saying that nothing could have been done. He waited nearly two hours.
“His right eye blew on the way there, which made the bleed more severe. If he had got there in time, would the bleed have occurred?”
Ms White, 53, added: “Although the death was due to a fall, the coroner said it is unclear how that fall happened, so it’s a good result.”