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Friday 30 September 2016

As a nightmare unfolded, they just wanted to protect their boy

Published 14/01/2013 | 05:00

I CAN'T imagine for a moment how Derry and Sallyanne Clarke are feeling today. First they had to deal with the tragic loss of their beloved 16-year-old son, Andrew. And now, less than two weeks after his funeral, they have had to clarify the circumstances of his death. This must be a burden almost too great to bear.

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The last day of 2012 was full of headlines telling us of the death of the Clarkes' larger-than-life, motor-racing-mad son. Everyone – the public and the media – took at face value the account of an accident in which a car he was fixing up fell on top of him in his garage at home.

In a statement issued after he died, the Clarkes did not suggest any other possible cause of death. It emerged in a follow-up statement from the couple on Saturday that he, in fact, took his own life.

The Clarkes explained that for the four days their son was in a coma they prayed for a miracle. If he survived, they did not want him to be stigmatised by actions taken "in a moment of madness".

One can't but have huge sympathy for the couple in this tragic case. For most people, such a trauma would be a private matter, confined to a circle of family and friends.

However, the Clarkes are very much in the public eye. Derry Clarke is a celebrity chef. He and his wife run l'Ecrivain, one of Ireland's best-known Michelin star restaurants. The affable and popular restaurateur appears regularly on radio and television, and he and his wife are no strangers to the social and lifestyle columns.

In a distraught state, they made a misjudgment and issued a statement that failed to outline the full, tragic circumstances. As with any parent, they must have struggled to face the tragedy that had befallen them. They may well have been influenced by the high profile that youth suicide is receiving in the media in recent months. The deaths of the young Gallagher sisters last October and November in Donegal received widespread public attention.

I have no doubt that the Clarkes were genuinely trying to protect Andrew in the event that he survived.

In their statement this weekend, they said it was not their intention to mislead and that parents, including those of his schoolmates in Clongowes Wood College where he was a boarder, would "understand our plight".

Hindsight is a great thing and in retrospect the Clarkes may have been better advised to have issued a statement saying their son died tragically, and to appeal for privacy. And leave it at that.

It is highly likely that the full details of Andrew's death would have emerged at an inquest, in any event.

But the twist in this very sad tale does not change the fact that Derry and Sallyanne have lost their dear son. His sister, Sarah May, has lost her "rascal" of a brother. Another young Irish life has been lost to the scourge of suicide.

We cannot know what was in Andrew's mind before he acted as he did on December 27. For his mother and father, this was a nightmare unfolding, and their actions taken in a highly emotional state were perhaps understandable.

Now that the real manner of his death has emerged, let's hope the Clarke family are given space to grieve in peace.

Irish Independent

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