A manual worker killed his partner before raping and killing her teenage daughter and then hanging himself, an inquest in Co. Armagh has heard.
Coroner Joe McCrisken called the deaths of Giselle Marimon-Herrera, 37, from Colombia, and her daughter, Allison, 15, ‘barbaric’, and ‘one of the most difficult’ inquests he has ever presided over.
The bodies of the mother and daughter were discovered in an apartment in Newry on March 7, 2019, along with that of Russell Steele, by police after they had all been reported missing.
Ms Marimon-Herrera died from asphyxiation and suffocation and Allison Marimon-Herrera died due to manual strangulation and suffocation, Mr McCrisken found. Their chihuahua dog was also found dead.
He said he could not be satisfied that Ms Marimon-Herrera had been sexually assaulted, but that there is evidence her daughter had been raped.
Steele, from Scotland, was found to have died by hanging and had intended to die. The inquest heard his family had been kept informed of the proceedings but chose not to attend.
Mr McCrisken thanked members of the Marimon-Herrera family, who attended the inquests at Armagh courthouse for their ‘dignity’ throughout the police investigation and inquests, telling them they have been ‘through hell over the past year’. He also thanked the PSNI for a ‘genuinely excellent’ investigation.
At the opening of proceedings yesterday, Mr McCrisken said he was holding separate inquests into the deaths of Ms Marimon-Herrera, her daughter and Steele.
A statement from Ms Marimon-Herrera’s sister Paola was read to the inquest.
She described how her sister had arrived in the North in 2016 after separating from her husband, and was followed by her daughter in 2017. She also told the inquest her sister had felt Steele was ‘controlling’ and she had wanted to end the relationship.
PSNI investigating officer Victoria Holmes said text messages between Steele and Ms Marimon-Herrera revealed a recent argument, which included an attempt by her to end the relationship.
Statements from two Polish men, Szymon Kosecki and Pawel Bronk, who had been work colleagues of Steele, were read to the court. They are believed to be the last people to have seen Ms Marimon-Herrera and her daughter alive after meeting the mother and Steele for a night out on Saturday, March 2 at Brass Monkeys in Newry. They returned to the Glin Ree Court apartment, where they saw Allison with her pet dog. They stayed for about an hour, leaving at around 3am.
Ward Devlin, an ex-partner of Ms Marimon-Herrera, gave evidence about how he raised the alarm after she failed to respond to messages for several days.
Neighbour Gerard Doran is believed to be the last person to have seen Steele alive. He recalled seeing Steele standing at the front door of the apartment complex on Sunday, March 3 holding a holdall and a plastic bag, looking ‘agitated’ and ‘unable to stand still’.
‘I thought his behaviour was very strange at the time,’ he said.
An examination of a laptop found in the apartment revealed research on lethal doses of paracetamol at 5.20am on March 4.
Mr McCrisken put it to Ms Holmes that Steele had been preparing to leave before changing his mind and returning to the apartment, where he took his own life.
‘If you are asking my personal opinion, then yes,’ she responded.
Steele had two passports, his phone and a pair of torn underwear, which DNA evidence found were likely to have belonged to Allison, in his pockets.
The inquest also heard phones likely to have been used by Ms Marimon-Herrera and her daughter had no recoverable information on them. ‘It appears that the information was deleted from both devices,’ Ms Holmes said.
A statement from Steele’s ex-wife was read to the inquest. Margaret Steele said she met him through church as he battled a heroin addiction. They had a temporary split in 2010 when he relapsed but, in total, they were married for 17 years and had two children together. The marriage ended after she discovered he was having an affair with Ms Marimon-Herrera, who he had previously met in Spain before reconnecting via social media. He then left their home in Kilmarnock to move to Northern Ireland.
The inquest heard Steele had a criminal record, including a conviction for an assault which led to an eight-month prison sentence.
Delivering his findings, Mr McCrisken said: ‘The killing of Giselle Marimon-Herrera and her 15-year-old daughter Allison by Russell Steele was barbaric.
‘Giselle Marimon-Herrera was a woman of small stature. Her 15-year-old daughter and her would have been unable to offer any resistance against an attack by Russell Steele.
‘I am satisfied that he acted alone for a reason that is unknown. The killings were an impulsive act carried out by an individual with a history of aggression and violence.’
The family said they were devastated.
‘We are a very private family who have been catapulted into the public domain as a result of this murder.’
They thanked the public and others who organised donations which the family used to travel from France and Colombia to Northern Ireland, where they were able to see where they lived and to meet pupils and teachers at Newry High School which Allison attended.
The fund also assisted in paying for the cremation in Belfast and it also paid for all the family to travel to Portugal where their ashes have been laid to rest.
The statement concluded: ‘The family appeal to anyone who is at risk of domestic violence to seek help.’