herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

Gail O'Rorke weeps as jury declares her not guilty of assisting friend's suicide

court

Gail O'Rorke with her husband Barry at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she was found not guilty
Gail O'Rorke with her husband Barry at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she was found not guilty
Tom Curran partner of Marie Fleming at the trial of Gail O'Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she was found not guilty

Gail O'Rorke wept as she was acquitted of attempting to assist the suicide of her friend Bernadette Forde by helping her in a failed bid to travel to a euthanasia facility in Switzerland.

After the jury found Ms O'Rorke (43) not guilty of the charge, right-to-die campaigner Tom Curran - whose late partner Marie Fleming had challenged the ban on assisted suicide - said he believes the trial should never have taken place.

Ms O'Rorke's trial was the first prosecution under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 which decriminalised suicide but made it an offence to assist another to end their life.

There were cheers and applause from Ms O'Rorke's supporters when the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury forewoman read out the verdict. She wept as she heard the decision and said she was "absolutely over the moon" as she left the court.

"I'm just going to go home get back to normal life," she said.

READ MORE: Terry Prone: A tragic but triumphant case that asks questions of our suicide laws

In a statement she revealed the experience has left her drained. "The last four years, and in particular the last three years, have been very difficult for my family and me.

"The family of my dear late friend, Bernadette Forde, have had to endure intrusions into her privacy which she always guarded so carefully," she said.

2015-04-29_new_9051263_I2.JPG
Tom Curran

The experience had been "gruelling" for all concerned, she said.

Ms O'Rorke, a taxi driver from Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght was accused of attempting to help Ms Forde (51) get to the Swiss euthanasia centre Dignitas, a plan that was thwarted when the travel agent alerted gardaí.

Ms Forde had been suffering from a severe form of multiple sclerosis before her death.

The Herald can today report that two Irish people have travelled to the Dignitas facility to die by what the centre describes as "accompanied suicide" since 2011, the year Ms Forde sought to travel there.

Its records show that eight Irish people have ended their lives there since 2003.

Ms O'Rorke pleaded not guilty to attempting to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of trying to arrange travel to Zurich for such purpose between March 10 and April 20, 2011.

Last week, after legal argument, Judge Patrick McCartan ordered the jury to acquit Ms O'Rorke of ordering a lethal dose of barbiturates from Mexico which were later taken by Ms Forde on June 5, 2011.

funeral

The judge told the jury to find Ms O'Rorke not guilty of "procuring" the suicide of her friend by helping to organise her funeral before her death.

A garda investigation was launched after Ms Forde's body was found in her Donnybrook apartment with Pentobarbital, a drug used for euthanasia, close by

The court heard an audio message made by Ms Forde where she states that she cannot have "Gail or Mary or anyone" around her anymore for fear she could get them into trouble.

"It's just so unfair that I can't contact or chat to anyone and I have to be totally alone," she said. "I'm just very frustrated it has to be this way. Why is it in Ireland that I can't get my way to Dignitas?"

Ms O'Rorke started as a cleaner for Ms Forde, a former human resources manager with Guinness, but they became close friends over the years. The accused became a carer for Ms Forde as her disease progressed.

The trial heard that gardaí were alerted by the manager of Rathgar Travel that a group of people were travelling to Dignitas in Zurich.

Ms O'Rorke had booked three flights to Zurich for herself, Ms Forde and Ms Forde's nephew, Bernard Forde Monaghan. Ms Forde had previously been told by Dignitas it would help her end her life at one of its clinics.

Ms O'Rorke told the travel agent the purpose of the trip and this information was passed onto gardaí who were waiting when she came to pick up the tickets. Gardaí did not make any arrests but they told Ms O'Rorke that it was an offence to assist in a suicide.

The accused later said in interview that after the Dignitas episode, Ms Forde remained determined to end her life but made Ms O'Rorke "take a back seat" so she wouldn't get into trouble.

The accused said that another friend, Mary Lundy, took on a more active role and contacted another euthanasia organisation, Exit International, on Ms Forde's behalf.

Ms O'Rorke told gardaí Ms Forde had her send €400 via Western Union to Mexico but that she didn't know what this was for.

She said that Ms Forde later admitted to her that the money was for Pentobarbital, which she intended to use to end her life.

Ms O'Rorke said that when the drugs arrived she "wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot barge poll" as she feared legal consequences.

The accused said the plan was for her and her husband to spend the night in a hotel, paid for by Ms Forde, on the night of June 5, 2011. She said that Mary Lundy was to sit with Ms Forde as she took the overdose in her apartment.

The accused told gardaí that Ms Lundy later told her that she sat with Ms Forde as she took the overdose and left the apartment as she was close to death.

partner

Ms O'Rorke said Ms Lundy called her later that week and told her it was the hardest thing she ever had to do and "didn't know how she was going to go home and act normal in front of her sons."

Speaking after the verdict, Tom Curran said Ms O'Rorke should never have found herself in court.

Mr Curran's partner Marie Fleming, who also suffered with MS, took a case to the Supreme Court in 2013, challenging the ban on assisted suicide. The Supreme Court found against her but said that the DPP may use "discretion" in prosecuting such cases. Ms Fleming passed away in December 2013.

Mr Curran said he was shocked that the Director of Public Prosecutions brought charges against Ms O'Rorke after the Supreme Court case.

"This trial should never have taken place considering what the Supreme Court judge said about using the same discretion that they use in the UK," he said.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News