Nurse, 68, who’s been under suspicion of murdering a disabled patient for EIGHT years reveals her life has been left in ‘tatters’ – but police refuse to close the case despite never bringing charges
- Mary Harraghy has been the only suspect in the death of Seamus McCollum
- The former nurse, 68, was on shift at a care home when he died in 2011
- Police are investigating his death, but no charges have been made in eight years
A nurse says her 40-year career has been left in tatters after she was ‘wrongly accused’ of murdering one of her patients, in a case that still remains open seven years on.
Mary Harraghy, 68, has been the only suspect in the investigation into the murder of Seamus McCollum – but she has never been charged with any offence.
The nurse from Magherafelt, in Northern Ireland, says she has been the victim of ‘a huge miscarriage of justice’ since McCollum’s death in 2011, and is losing hope that her name will ever be cleared.
In 2016, aged 65, Mary felt she was forced to take early retirement, as she could not bear the police investigation hanging over her as she worked.
Mary Harraghy, 68, has been the only suspect in the investigation into the death of Seamus McCollum for over more than eight years – but she has never been charged with any offence, pictured at home in February 2019
But her husband Tommy, 65, is determined to fight on and has launched a campaign – Justice for Mary – in a bid to set the record straight.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has confirmed that no charges have ever been made.
Mother-of-two Mary says: ‘I don’t have a killer bone in my body. But at this point I think I’m going to be a murder suspect for the rest of my life.
‘Nursing was more than just a job – it was my life.
Seamus McCollum’s sisters Bernadette McFall (left) and Molly Gilbert (second from right) at Laganside Courts where they gave evidence to an inquest into their brother death in January 2017
Mary and Tommy Harraghy, aged 67 and 65, at home in February 2019. The nurse from Magherafelt, in Northern Ireland, says she has been the victim of ‘a huge miscarriage of justice’ and is losing hope that her name will ever be cleared
‘It was tough when the children were small, juggling being a mum with my shifts, but we made it work. I was very proud of my career and loved my work.’
Mary had been a nurse and midwife since the early 1970s, and spent the latter portion of her career in residential homes.
She was a staff nurse in Maine Nursing Home, for patients with learning disabilities, in Randalstown, Co Antrim, when in September 2011 a phone call changed her life forever.
‘My boss telephoned one afternoon to explain they were short staffed,’ she remembers. ‘He asked if I could come in at short notice and do a night shift.
Mary working as a midwife with that year’s Christmas baby, aged 28 in 1979. Mary has spent her whole adult life as a nurse before she was forced to retire
Mary and Tommy with their children Nuala and Gerrard in 1997. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has confirmed that no charges have ever been made against Mary
‘One of my colleagues had called in sick, so I agreed to help out.’
Mary says it was just herself and a care assistant on duty that night, doing hourly checks to make sure all the residents were sleeping soundly.
At around 6am on September 12, her colleague summoned her to the bedside of resident Seamus McCollum, who she claims was unresponsive. He had a complex range of health problems, including cerebral palsy.
‘He didn’t have a pulse, so I started CPR and told the care assistant to call an ambulance,’ says Mary. ‘Ten minutes later the paramedics arrived and took over.
Mary Harraghy working as a midwife in October 1975, age 23. Her husband Tommy, now 65, is determined to fight on and has launched a campaign – Justice for Mary – in a bid to set the record straight
Mary’s final year of training in Phoenix Park, in 1972, aged 21. Mary had been a nurse and midwife since the early 1970s, and spent the latter portion of her career in residential homes
‘We did everything we could, but sadly the 53-year-old passed away.
‘I telephoned my hubby Tommy to tell him I’d be late home. Deaths in care homes aren’t uncommon, but they’re still sad days and I wanted to make sure I’d handed everything over properly.’
The following day Mary was asked to give a statement to police about what had happened, which isn’t unusual in such cases.
It wasn’t until six months later, in March 2012, that she learned a murder investigation had been launched. Mary was told she was being suspended from duty until further notice.
Mary was a staff nurse in Maine Nursing Home, for patients with learning disabilities, in Randalstown, Co Antrim, when a patient died on her shift. Pictured at home in 2019 with husband Tommy
‘I’ll never forget that phone call,’ says Tommy. ‘At the end of her shift the managers pulled her into a room and told her it had turned into a murder investigation.
‘She rang me in floods of tears, absolutely hysterical. I told her it was probably just a formality and not to get too worried, she’d be back to work soon.’
Another six months dragged past.
‘Not going into work every day was horrible, I felt absolutely lost,’ says Mary. ‘Desperate to be useful, I started popping in to see my neighbour more regularly. She was in her 90s and really appreciated the company.’
On the morning of September 24th, 2012, Mary returned home from a doctors’ appointment to find police cars and armed cops swarming round her house.
Mary and Tommy with their children Nuala and Gerrard in 2013, for Tommy’s 60th birthday
She says she was told they had a warrant to search her property.
‘It was ludicrous,’ says Mary. ‘I found two policemen searching our bedrooms.
‘They confiscated our cars and every computer in the house – even the new tablet my kids had given me for my 60th birthday.
‘Then they told me I needed to present myself at the police station the following morning, where I would be arrested and questions about Seamus McCollum’s murder. I was so shocked I could barely speak.’
The following day she and Tommy were accompanied to Antrim Police Station by their family solicitor, who had prepared a statement on her behalf.
Mary and Tommy with their children Nuala and Gerrard in 1992. On the morning of September 24th, 2012, Mary returned home from a doctors’ appointment to find police cars and armed cops swarming round her house – and her six years of hell began
‘I stood trembling as they searched me,’ she says. ‘I tried desperately to hold back the tears as my handbag was taken away and I was shown into a room for questioning.
‘I was absolutely terrified. Was I going to be banged up in a cell? When would I see Tommy again?
‘Thankfully, at the end of the day, they showed me to the door. I was released unconditionally, without charge.
‘My knees almost buckled as I walked through our front door into Tommy’s arms, adrenalin finally giving way to exhaustion.’
But Mr McCollum’s death was still being investigated as a murder, and Mary was the only suspect.
Mary with the hedgehog she rescued in 2013. Her husband says after becoming a suspect in a murder investigation she became a ‘shadow of her former self’
‘She became a shadow of her former self,’ says Tommy. ‘She pushed her trolley round Tesco with her head down, not making eye contact, expecting the cops to turn up again at any moment to put her in handcuffs.’
Mary adds: ‘I daren’t even go round to see my elderly neighbour, didn’t want anyone thinking I was trying to bump her off too!
‘Thankfully our local community was so supportive. We’d lived in the area for decades so most people had known me for years.
‘One morning I found a bunch of flowers on our back doorstep, with an anonymous note wishing me well. Another day a neighbour pulled up alongside me as I walked down our road and shouted out of the car “we know you didn’t do it Mary”.’
An investigation by the Nursing and Midwifery Council found that Mary had no case to answer in regard to the allegations. The heath trust also carried out its own review, and in November 2015 she was allowed to go back to work, with no restrictions.
Mary and Tommy with their children Nuala and Gerrard in 1992. An investigation by the Nursing and Midwifery Council found that Mary had no case to answer in regard to the allegations
But with the cloud of the police investigation hanging over her, Mary opted to take early retirement eight months later.
‘How could I look after elderly patients with a murder investigation hanging over my head?’ she says.
‘Every shift I worried that if a resident died, the finger would automatically be pointed at me.
‘My beloved career was in tatters. I’d spent my whole life caring for others. I’d been squeaky clean, never even had a parking ticket. It felt so unfair; a huge miscarriage of justice.’
Mary Harraghy as a student midwife in 1975 age 23. Mary opted to take early retirement in 2016 due to the shadow of the police investigation
Mary as a student nurse in 1969 aged 18: Mary’s husband Tommy has written to the Police Ombudsman three times to complain about the police handling of the case
In a statement, a Police Service of Northern Ireland spokeswoman said: ‘The death of Seamus has been subject to extensive investigation. To date, no charges have been brought.’ Pictured: Mary in February this year
An inquest into Seamus’s death in 2017 ruled that the cause of death was undetermined.
Meanwhile the Public Prosecution Service found there was not enough evidence to bring a prosecution against Mary.
Tommy has written to the Police Ombudsman three times to complain about the police handling of the case.
Yet today, the murder investigation remains open.
In a statement, a Police Service of Northern Ireland spokeswoman said: ‘The death of Seamus has been subject to extensive investigation. To date, no charges have been brought.’
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