Monday 24 June 2019

Barrister 'acutely stressed' over perceived work mistake, inquest told

The Dublin Coroner's Court
The Dublin Coroner's Court

Louise Roseingrave

A 48 year old crime barrister became acutely stressed and died following a perceived mistake he'd made at work.

Colm O’Briain, a self employed barrister from Sandymount, Dublin 4 ‘became a different person’ after losing a case around ten days before he died.

He told doctors that he’d make a mistake at work and was fearful his client would take legal action against him. He was fearful about the outcome this may have on his professional and financial situation and on his family, Dublin Coroner’s Court heard.

Mr O’Briain, a senior counsel and leading member of the criminal bar, appeared at many criminal trials during the course of his career.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane heard that he lost a significant amount of weight in a short period following the incident at work. Family members became concerned for his welfare. On May 22 2016, three days before his death, he discussed the situation at length with his wife.

He’d gone to training as a GAA coach that Sunday morning and when he came back he told his wife he wanted to talk. They went for a long walk on the beach and she described his frame of mind as ‘completely pre-occupied with work.’

He visited a GP the following day and told how he’d lost his appetite and was having difficulty sleeping.

“He was having sleepless nights, ruminating over the problem and admitted to having suicidal thoughts since this episode at work had begun,” GP Dr Suzanne Walsh said in her deposition.

The doctor prescribed sleeping pills and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. However, Mr O’Briain remained consumed with worry over the issue at work and family and friends became increasingly concerned. Close family members described him as ‘completely changed,’ with a ‘blackness over him.’

The following day, May 24 2016 Mr O’Briain was admitted to St John of God’s Hospital in Stillorgan as family feared he was at risk of suicide.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Cian Denihan said that Mr O’Briain’s symptoms had developed acutely following the work incident. He said that Mr O’Briain told medics he had no history of mental illness but his father had suffered from reactive depression. He said Mr O’Briain had experienced suicidal ideation but he denied any ongoing suicidal intent.

Dr Denihan told the inquest Mr O'Briain was due to have a multi-disciplinary review the day after his admission to St John of God’s.

Early on May 25 2016 staff conducted an observational check on Mr O’Briain but he was not in his bed. When located, he had no pulse and was rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1.21am. The inquest before Dr Cullinane continues.


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