Saturday 1 October 2016

Jury hears evidence from 'beyond grave' as tape of last words played

Published 21/04/2015 | 02:30

Gail O’Rorke had worked as a cleaner for Bernadette Forde before becoming her part-time carer
Gail O’Rorke had worked as a cleaner for Bernadette Forde before becoming her part-time carer
Bernadette Forde suffered from multiple sclerosis
Elizabeth Cremin

THE jury in the trial of a woman accused of assisting the suicide of her friend has heard the recorded last words of the dead woman.

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Gail O'Rorke (43), a taxi driver, has pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the suicide of Bernadette Forde (51) by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance between April 20, 2011 and June 6, 2011 at a location in Dublin.

She also denies that she attempted to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of attempting to arrange travel to Zurich, Switzerland for such purpose between March 10 and April 20, 2011.

She further denies she procured the suicide of Ms Forde between June 4 and June 6, 2011 by means of making funeral arrangements for Ms Forde in advance of her death.

Grave

The jury of six women and six men were told by prosecutor Remy Farrell SC that they would hear evidence "from beyond the grave". Mr Farrell told the jury that the message was recorded by Ms Forde before her death and that while it would be perhaps "eerie" to hear her final recorded words, they may have to consider later on "how reliable they regard (that) evidence from beyond the grave".

In his opening speech to the jury, Mr Farrell said that the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 had decriminalised suicide, but said that the offence of assisting or attempting to assist someone in the act of suicide remained an offence.

Outlining the facts as alleged by the prosecution, Mr Farrell explained the nature of the counts and said that the topic of suicide and euthanasia was "an extremely difficult and emotive one" involving substantial debate.

But he told the jurors that the trial of Ms O'Rorke was "not a forum" for such debate. "If that debate happens, it happens somewhere else," said Mr Farrell, who acknowledged that the case may present "something of a challenge" for the jury to try the case strictly in accordance with the evidence.

The trial heard that Ms Forde enjoyed a successful career in human resources at Guinness, but retired on medical grounds in July 2001 following a diagnosis of primary, progressive multiple sclerosis (MS).

Ms Forde's illness was both progressive and incurable, Mr Farrell said, adding that since 2008 she was confined to a wheelchair following a car accident.

The accident meant that Ms Forde required medical assistance from a part-time carer, a role fulfilled by Ms O'Rorke, who had previously worked as a cleaner for Ms Forde.

The trial heard that the death from cancer in 2010 of Ms Forde's sister was "something of a trigger" for Ms Forde, who told family that she intended to travel to the Dignitas facility in Zurich, Switzerland for the purpose of taking her own life.

Mr Farrell said that after Ms Forde was given "the green light" from Dignitas, Ms O'Rorke was involved in a plan, on dates in March and April 2011, to help Ms Forde travel to Zurich for the purpose of ending her own life.

However, that plan was ended after gardaí intervened following contact from a Dublin travel agency which was told the purpose of the planned trip, said the prosecutor. Mr Farrell told the jury that the Dignitas plan was "abandoned" after gardaí intervened and said that Ms O'Rorke - of Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght - could not have been under any illusion at that time that this constituted an offence.

It is alleged that after the failure of the first plan, Ms Forde decided to end her own life through the procurement and use of phenobarbital, a drug. Mr Farrell said Ms O'Rorke was "instrumental in obtaining the substance". The prosecution claims Ms O'Rorke was instrumental in making payment to a man in Mexico for the substance, was there when the package was delivered and helped Ms Ford make her funeral arrangements.

The trial heard Ms Forde's suicide note was contained in a message that was found on a dictaphone beside the deceased in her Donnybrook home along with a note that read: "Gardaí I can't really write. I've left a message on this recorder. B. Forde."

The recording was played to the jury, who heard Ms Forde say how she planned to take her life and how frustrated she was that she could not discuss ending her life with those close to her because of the law.

Earlier, the head of the residential association in Morehampton Mews in Donnybrook where Ms Forde lived gave evidence that she found the body after receiving a call from Ms O'Rorke asking her to check on Ms Forde.

Elizabeth Cremin said that she was aware that Ms Forde was planning on ending her life and said that Ms Forde asked her to sit with her while she did this, but that she refused because she "didn't have the courage" and she knew it would be illegal. She said she told Ms Forde she would help her "within the law".

The trial, which is due to last for two weeks, continues before trial judge Mr Justice Patrick McCartan.

Irish Independent

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