Tuesday 27 September 2016

Bernadette suicide pal 'numbed' by court ordeal

Shaken Gail O'Rorke takes time off to recover after 'not guilty' verdict

Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30

Gail O'Rorke
Gail O'Rorke
Bernadette Forde

The woman who was cleared last week of charges that she helped her late friend to take her own life has been left shell-shocked and numbed by the ordeal of the criminal trial, friends told the Sunday Independent.

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In the first assisted-suicide trial of its kind, Gail O'Rorke was found not guilty of trying to help her friend, Bernadette Forde, an MS sufferer, to end her life by travelling to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.

Tom Curran, whose partner Marie Fleming took an unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge to the law banning assisted suicide, last week said Ms O'Rorke should never have been prosecuted.

Although the Supreme Court found against Ms Fleming, it also said that the DPP could use "discretion" in prosecuting such cases.

Mr Curran, of Exit International, said Gail O'Rorke's "went through two weeks of hell and she wants some privacy and peace for herself... The whole reality of it only came home to her the day the jury was sworn in."

The eight-day trial heard that Ms O'Rorke (43), a taxi driver from Tallaght, was a carer for Bernadette Forde.

Ms Forde suffered from progressive multiple sclerosis.

She had worked as a human resources manager in Guinness before she became ill and increasingly incapacitated. She eventually took her own life at the age of 51 in 2011, after taking a lethal dose of barbiturates.

Gail O'Rorke began working for Ms Forde as a cleaner and as her carer. She was accused of helping Ms Forde to obtain the lethal drug from Mexico, and also of trying to help her get to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.

Ms O'Rorke, on whom she had become increasingly dependent, said later she had no idea of the legal implications of helping to arrange her visit.

The travel agent later contacted gardai, but Ms O'Rorke was not charged with any offence until after her friend took her own life using barbiturates some months later.

Ms Forde's nephew told the court that she wanted to die on her own terms. Her sister said it was not possible to change her mind.

Shortly before Ms Forde died, she recorded a suicide letter on a dictaphone, in which she outlined her frustration at having to hide her suicide plans from her friends and that she had to be "totally alone". She left the recording in an attempt to protect her friends from prosecution in relation to her death.

Ms O'Rorke told detectives that the plan was that she and her husband would go to a hotel in Kilkenny, which had been booked and paid for by Ms Forde.

"I told her if I rang on Monday and she answered, it was ok. There were other options," she told the court. Ms O'Rorke explained that she meant a care home, which was Ms Forde's worst nightmare.

The court heard that another friend was with Ms Forde when she died. The court was told that Ms Forde and this friend had some drinks. According to an account given to gardai by Ms O'Rorke, Ms Forde told her friend that it was time. She took the drug and said: "Didn't I do well?"

Nothing happened at first, the court heard, and Ms Forde began to panic that she had bought a dud. But then the drug took effect, and her friend left her close to death.

Ms Forde included Gail O'Rorke in her will as she said she had made "her life better".

The prosecution said there was no doubt that everything Gail O'Rorke did was informed out of "loyalty" and "love" for Ms Forde. But the jury was asked to consider the simple issue as to whether the law had been broken.

In evidence during the eight-day trial in the Circuit Criminal Court, Ms O'Rorke told gardai that she sensed Bernadette Forde had been making suicide plans.

"She was clearly trying to protect people by not telling them," she told the court.

"But deep down I knew she was planning something."

Ms O'Rorke also told gardaí she was "glad she did what she had to do and is at peace," she said. "I'm also glad she didn't tell me as I would have refused to help."

Towards the end of the trial, Judge McCartan ordered the jury to find Ms O'Rorke not guilty of two charges - those of helping "procure" Ms Forde's suicide by assisting with making funeral arrangements before her death, and of ordering the barbiturates she took to kill herself.

The jury had only to decide her guilt or innocence on the charge of making travel arrangements to visit Dignitas in Switzerland. She was acquitted of the charge.

Mr Curran said Ms O'Rorke should never have found herself in court. "Guilty or not guilty, 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.

Ms O'Rorke released a statement after the verdict, welcoming it as what Bernadette had hoped for and thanking her friends, her family and her husband for their support during what was a "gruelling ordeal".

Sunday Independent

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