Northern Ireland

On the streets of Belfast a man was found fatally injured, a murder investigation was launched but his mother is still seeking answers

Gareth Rynne, 39, was from Dublin, a spiritual person, an accomplished artist but gripped by drink and drugs, his mother says

Gareth Rynne was found with serious injuries in Belfast city centre in August before later dying in hospital. A murder investigation continues.
Gareth Rynne was found with serious injuries in Belfast city centre in August, 2022, before later dying in hospital.

Early on Sunday morning August 14 2022, a man was found slumped unconscious outside the McDonald’s in Donegall Place in the centre of Belfast.

An ambulance was called but after a time when none arrived, the crew from the Welcome Organisation took over, as its volunteers so often do when caring for people they find on the streets of the city.

The man was ferried in a Welcome van to the Royal Victoria Hospital. Police were informed.

He had few possessions and the only identification were old cards from working in carpentry and as a forklift driver. His name was Gareth Rynne.

Gareth Rynne, 39 and from Dublin, died in August, 2022
Gareth Rynne, 39 and from Dublin, died in August, 2022

On that Sunday in August, in Tallaght in south Dublin, gardai twice went to the home of Paula Rynne. She missed them both times but knew they were looking for her so went to the local station.

Paula was told her son 39-year-old son Gareth, her only child, was in the intensive care unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. A brother picked her up for the journey north.

“There was a flood on the M50 so we decided to take the scenic route through Navan. That was a disaster. It took five and a half hours,” Paula remembers.

By the time she arrived at the hospital and after speaking to officers, it was clear an assault investigation had been launched.

As Gareth lay in intensive care, Paula noticed his nails being clipped, for the “forensics” she was told. That made her cry. “It was a mothering thing,” says Paula.

For two days, Gareth Rynne remained alive but was declared dead on the Tuesday. He had suffered a subdural hematoma caused by a severe head injury.

From left, Brenda Rynne, Gareth's godmother, Paula Rynne, Mary Peters, Gerard Loftus, Gareth's father, and Stephen Rynne, his godfather, at a ceremony honouring his donation of organs
From left, Brenda Rynne, Gareth's godmother, Paula Rynne, Mary Peters, Gerard Loftus, Gareth's father, and Stephen Rynne, his godfather, at a ceremony honouring his donation of organs

Several days later, the PSNI said a murder investigation had been launched and that a 27-year-old had been arrested and released on bail.

Little information subsequently emerged about the events of that morning. Gareth Rynne’s image appeared again only in the end of year round up of murder investigations launched.

Then last month, a man appeared before the magistrates court in Belfast. He was fined £200 after pleading guilty to common assault.

Gareth Rynne is not believed to have ever been in Belfast before arriving in the city just weeks earlier.

His mother last saw him on July 1 when she left him down to the shops in Tallaght. She thought he was going for a haircut and would be back home in a few hours. He never arrived.

Gareth spent about a week around Dublin but Paula now knows he travelled north around July 8. It was not unusual for him to go “walkabout”, she says.

“You know, Gareth was becoming spiritual. I think he was moving towards the Buddhist philosophy, but it was not something we discussed,” says Paula, a digital designer and teacher.

He was also an accomplished artist but never reached his potential, she adds.

Gareth was a member of a large extended family originally from Drumcondra in north Dublin. Paula was one of 12 siblings and Gareth had people across the capital and in Co Clare.

But from an early age he was troubled, then drink, then drugs, then mental illness took hold.

He had a girlfriend for six or so years, sometimes with both of them living in Paula’s house.

“His behaviour got difficult and the two of them were taking drugs and drinking. It was very hard to deal with. They liked being looked after,” Paula remembers.

That relationship ended in 2019, around the same time Gareth was clinically diagnosed with a specific mental illness.

He may have been pre-disposed in some way, says Paula, but the drink and drugs were definitely an added factor.

Paula with her son Gareth
Paula with her son Gareth

He was also accused of assault and decided to head for London, just ahead of the pandemic.

Gareth lived in Hackney for two years and Paula believes he stayed away at least from the drugs during that time. But he also spent time in prison.

Back home in Dublin, he was picked up on the outstanding warrant for assault and remanded in the Midlands Prison. When it finally reached the court, he received a suspended sentence, Paula says.

Following his release from prison, he spent little time with his mother before heading away again, ultimately to Belfast and his death.

Paula says she only heard on the Thursday before the hearing that 29-year-old Dylan Quaile, with an address in Maguiresbridge in Co Fermanagh, was due to appear in court in connection with an assault on her son.

CCTV footage from the morning of August 14 shows Gareth Rynne and Quaile on Callender Street at the back of Marks & Spencer in Belfast city centre.

Callender Street in Belfast
Callender Street in Belfast

The prosecution case was that Quaile struck Gareth though all that can be seen is an arm moving and the victim falling to the ground. The defendant is seen leaving followed some moments later by Gareth.

Quaile told police he could not recall the incident due to a combination of heavy drinking and taking medication tablets, but admitted he was in the footage, the magistrates court heard.

Detectives investigating were unable to track all of Gareth’s movements in the hours after the Callender Street incident so prosecutors could not link the assault and his death.

District Judge John Rea, imposing a £200 fine, said: “The offence itself is not significant enough to merit a custodial sentence.”

In a statement, the PSNI said: “A thorough police investigation commenced upon the death of Gareth Rynne.

“Subsequently, a file was submitted to the Public Prosecution Service in April 2023 in respect of a 29-year-old man who has since appeared before court in connection with this investigation.

“We remain committed to ensuring any new credible evidential opportunities are pursued appropriately.”

Paula Rynne does not know where her son was staying before he was fatally injured. He had access to money so does not believe he was sleeping on the streets. His back pack is missing to this day.

She is a mother still looking for answers. She most certainly wants an inquest into his death.