Tuesday 24 October 2017

'Justice done' as jury acquits carer Gail O'Rorke of assisting sick woman's suicide

Gail O’Rorke leaves court with her husband Barry after she was cleared of aiding and abetting Bernadette Forde to take her own life
Gail O’Rorke leaves court with her husband Barry after she was cleared of aiding and abetting Bernadette Forde to take her own life
Bernadette Forde
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Taxi driver Gail O'Rorke broke down in tears as she was acquitted of attempting to assist the suicide of her "dear friend" by helping her travel to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.

A jury of six men and six women took seven hours to find Ms O'Rorke (43) not guilty after an eight-day trial.

Ms O'Rorke pleaded not guilty to attempting to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of attempting to arrange travel to Zurich for such purpose between March 10 and April 20, 2011.

It was the first prosecution under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 that decriminalised suicide but made it an offence to assist - or attempt to assist - another person to end their life.

The trial came just two years after the late MS sufferer Marie Fleming - who died in December 2013 - lost her constitutional challenge against Ireland's ban on assisted suicide.

Last night Ms Fleming's partner Tom Curran, the Irish representative of euthanasia organisation Exit International, said the trial "should never have taken place".

In a statement after the verdict, Ms O'Rorke described the three-week trial as "gruelling", thanked gardaí for their "compassionate investigation and presentation" and appealed for privacy.

Ms O'Rorke, from Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght, was accused of attempting to help Bernadette Forde (51) travel to the Swiss euthanasia clinic Dignitas, a plan that was thwarted when the travel agent alerted gardaí.

Ms Forde was suffering from a severe form of multiple sclerosis before her death.

There were cheers and applause from the large group of Ms O'Rorke's supporters when the jury forewoman read out the not guilty verdict.

Judge Patrick McCartan told the jury that it hadn't been an easy case but "justice has been done at your hands".

He said it was clear from the length of deliberations that jurors, who have now been excused from jury service for 10 years, had taken their oath seriously.

After the verdict, Ms O'Rorke's husband Barry said outside court that he couldn't believe it was over.

Gail O'Rorke was last Friday acquitted on direction of the trial judge on two other charges of assisting the suicide of her friend Bernadette Forde.

Following legal argument, Judge Patrick McCartan ordered the jury to acquit Ms O'Rorke of ordering a lethal dose of barbiturates from Mexico that were later taken by Ms Forde to end her life on June 5, 2011.

The judge also told the jury to find Ms O'Rorke not guilty of "procuring" the suicide of her friend by helping to organise her funeral before her death.

Judge McCartan told jurors that he was ordering not guilty verdicts in the final two charges because he agreed with the defence's argument that the prosecution had not produced enough evidence for the counts to go before a jury.

The trial heard a arda investigation was launched after Ms Forde's body was found in her Donnybrook apartment with the drug pentobarbital nearby. The court heard that pentobarbital, a slow-acting barbiturate, is used in capital punishment in the US and in euthanasia.

One of the first pieces of prosecution evidence was an audio message made by Ms Forde found near her body with a note that read: "Gardaí I can't really write. I've left a message on this recorder. B. Forde."

In the recording Ms Forde states that she cannot have "Gail or Mary or anyone" around her any more for fear she could get them into trouble. "It's just so unfair that I can't contact or chat to anyone and I have to be totally alone. But that's just it."

Ms O'Rorke started as a cleaner for Ms Forde, a former human resources manager with Guinness, but they became close friends over the years.

The accused became a carer for Ms Forde as her disease, aggravated by a 2008 car accident which left Ms Forde wheelchair bound, progressed.

The trial heard gardaí first became involved the previous April when they were alerted by the manager of Rathgar Travel that a group of people were travelling to Dignitas in Zurich.

Ms O'Rorke had booked three flights to Zurich for herself, Ms Forde and Ms Forde's nephew, Bernard Forde Monaghan. Ms Forde had previously been given "the green light" by Dignitas and it had agreed to help her end her life at one of its clinics.

Ms O'Rorke told the travel agent the purpose of the trip and this information was passed on to gardaí who were waiting for the accused when she came to pick up the tickets.

Irish Independent

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