Tuesday 19 September 2017

Troubled and lonely, Elaine O'Hara 'just wanted some love and attention'

Friend warned Elaine after seeing cuts on her stomach, writes Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

HER 'extreme' sexual interests included bondage and cutting, we were told, but Elaine O'Hara just wanted what we all want - to be loved.

Yesterday, courtroom number 13 at the Criminal Courts of Justice was hushed as a friend of the childcare worker testified that Elaine O'Hara had disclosed to her that she had met a man online who cut her - but who paid her the attention she craved.

Edna Lillis spoke warmly of Elaine O'Hara, whom she had befriended after meeting her at St Edmundsbury, a mental health hospital in Lucan, Dublin, in 2007.

The women kept in touch after that, often meeting in St Edmundsbury when they had outpatient appointments or in Liffey Valley.

Ms Lillis said that she knew Elaine had been treated for self-harm and suicidal tendencies, and said Elaine had a "dread fear" of being admitted to St Patrick's, another mental health facility in the capital.

"She liked St Edmundsbury, she felt secure there," said Ms Lillis, who last saw Elaine O'Hara in late 2011 or early 2012. It was during this last chat that Elaine showed Ms Lillis cuts on her stomach. They were recent cuts, about three or four inches long and they were fresh and light, said Ms Lillis. They wouldn't have been that deep, she explained, adding that they were "just very obvious".

The cuts were reportedly explained by Elaine as having been inflicted on her by a man she met on the internet who would cut her. Ms Lillis said she warned Elaine that she was "playing a very dangerous game", but Elaine insisted that the man was someone to pay attention to her.

"She just wanted to be loved, she just wanted some attention," explained Ms Lillis, who said she advised her troubled friend to keep notes of her encounters with the man - including his name and address - "in case anything happened".

Ms Lillis revealed some of the inner turmoil in her friend's life - including the fact that Elaine O'Hara had "never got over" the 2002 death of her mother and how she couldn't understand why her father had "got involved with somebody so soon", even though she liked her father's new partner.

Ms Lillis initially told gardaí that Elaine enjoyed being hurt physically, that she was happy Elaine wasn't afraid of the man - an architect whom Ms Lillis thought was called Peter - and told gardaí she got the impression the duo got sexual satisfaction from their acts.

Rosetta Callan was on night duty on August 12, 2012 when she popped in to see Elaine O'Hara, who was discharged - and went missing - the following day.

Nurse Callan had worked at St Edmunsbury for 44 years and knew Elaine - who had been admitted to hospital for depression some 14 times in her 36 years - fairly well.

Nurse Callan, now retired, said she inquired how Elaine was. Elaine replied that she was pissed off about a man who shared her interest in bondage who lived nearby, and whose house she passed every day. The man had a key to her apartment, Nurse Callan was told by Elaine, and was constantly calling there.

Tearful

The nurse probed why she would not "go to the guards" if she was being harassed.

But Elaine - who, Nurse Callan said, loved children - would not do so, because the man had young children whom she did not want to harm by going to the gardaí.

When Nurse Callan left the room, Elaine was both tearful and laughing at the same time.

In cross examination by defence barrister Ronan Kennedy, Nurse Callan agreed that she had told gardaí that Elaine reported the man was a neighbour and that he passed her house every day.

Maria Hynes, like Elaine O'Hara, was a heavy smoker - they mostly met in the smokers' room of St Edmunsbury, a throwaway line that drew knowing, sympathetic giggles in a courtroom whose air quality has been exhausted by the huge numbers of people present there.

Ms Hynes recalled that Elaine was always happy and chatty, but was disturbed by a private conversation they shared - in the smokers' room - the night before Elaine was discharged.

Elaine was really missing her mother that evening, and she asked Ms Hynes how she would kill herself. Ms Hynes agreed that it was "an unwritten rule" that patients would not discuss such matters and she refused to entertain the question. But Elaine persisted, and proceeded to describe how she would kill herself and told Ms Hynes she would do it with a rope at home that she had for quite a long time.

Elaine O'Hara first engaged with psychiatric services at the age of 16, but her life-long difficulties probably began earlier, the Central Criminal Court heard. Yesterday, a series of health professionals told the court of Elaine O'Hara's psychiatric history.

Her GP, Dr Matthew Corcoran, said he saw Elaine O'Hara "fairly regularly", perhaps 10 or 11 times a year. He was, on paper, the referring GP for her admissions to St Edmundsbury or St Patrick's, but said that he never admitted her - this was most likely her family.

The GP told defence counsel Remy Farrell SC that he was surprised to learn on August 30, 2012 that Elaine O'Hara had recently been in St Edmundsbury and he did not know anything about her contacting the Samaritans or making a noose.

It was Dr Corcoran who received a series of discharge summary notes after Elaine O'Hara left hospital, her periods of admission sometimes lasting months.

The late, celebrated psychiatrist Professor Anthony Clare took a substantial interest in Elaine O'Hara, his patient, Mr Farrell told the court and he corresponded with Dr Corcoran when Elaine O'Hara was discharged.

Sometimes Elaine O'Hara's admissions were precipitated by specific episodes of self-harm, at other times there was no obvious or specific reason.

In one discharge summary note sent by Prof Clare to Dr Corcoran on June 2005, after another two-month spell in hospital, Prof Clare recorded words Elaine O'Hara had reportedly told him. "I wasn't born for life. No one likes me. I'm a bad person," stated the clinical note which - like previous notes - recorded her final diagnosis as one of a recurrent depressive disorder, as well as an emotionally unstable personality.

The fragility of Elaine's mental health was set out in a discharge summary note from Prof Clare where he noticed a lift in his patient's mood during a hospital stay. She was friendly, interacting well and organising events for Aware, the mental health charity.

But the summary note recorded that her upbeat spell was short-lived after a parent of the local Beavers Group complained about self-inflicted marks on her arms. The leader of the Beavers told Elaine she should take a year off, causing huge distress.

"This was my life," she reportedly told Prof Clare, who observed that she "felt a failure again" after receiving the news.

Another discharge summary note, in July 2005, recorded that Elaine O'Hara was admitted because she believed people were watching her and talking about her. Then, her summary noted recorded: "She [Elaine] lives a very lonely life and has no friends because she finds it very hard to trust people."

Another one of Prof Clare's letters to Dr Corcoran, written in December 2006 after a two-month stay, noted that Elaine O'Hara was admitted because she was troubled by suicidal thoughts.

"I have six ways of killing myself," Elaine O'Hara reportedly told her doctor, without elaborating on the ways.

Stuart Colquhoun, a Cognitive Behaviour (CBT) and Schema Focussed therapist, told the court Elaine O'Hara was in "cheerful, spontaneous" form and smiling when he last saw her on August 21, 2012, the day before she disappeared.

He told prosecutor Sean Guerin SC that Elaine O'Hara was in better form that day than he had seen her in years.

But a series of his treatment notes recorded less happy times, including a time when Elaine O'Hara could not summon an image of "a safe place" because - the notes record - she told her therapist she did not have a safe place.

Mr Colquhoun told the court that Elaine couldn't say no sometimes and found it very difficult to court criticism from others and could misinterpret people's reactions negatively. In her final session, she disclosed nothing, because she was in such a good mood, he said.

The trial continues.

Irish Independent

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