Friday 22 March 2019

'My little bird with a broken wing' - Bernadette Scully not guilty of daughter's manslaughter

Dr Bernadette Scully outside court. Photo: Collins
Dr Bernadette Scully outside court. Photo: Collins
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

An Offaly doctor cleared of the manslaughter of her profoundly disabled daughter by giving her too much sedative has said she was "traumatised" by the criminal proceedings, describing her daughter as "my little bird with a broken wing".

The GP Bernadette Scully was charged with unlawfully killing 11-year-old Emily Barut at their home at Emvale, Bachelor’s Walk, Tullamore. It was alleged that she killed her by an act of gross negligence involving the administration of an excessive quantity of chloral hydrate on Saturday September 15th, 2012.

The 58-year-old had pleaded not guilty and went on trial at the Central Criminal Court two weeks ago.

She has since released a statement which follows in full:

"I could not have gotten through this this difficult time without the love and support of my partner Andrius, his lovely daughter Kotryna and my precious mother and devoted brothers and sisters.

"We would like to thank Mr Justice Mc Carthy, the Jury,the court officials,our Legal Team Mr Ken Fogarty SC, Mr Ger Groark Barrister ,Mrs Christine Traynor,Barrister, Miss Patricia Cronin ,Criminal Solicitor,and Miss Joahanna Mc Gowan Family Solicitor and Gardai for their support in guiding us through this difficult process.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the care and sensitivity shown to Emily and myself by the Paramedics and staff at Tullamore Regional Hospital particularly within the Intensive Care Unit, at the time of Emily's tragic death 4 yrs ago and also Dr Seamus O Ceallaigh Dr Richard Booth and the staff at St Patrick's Hospital for their care and support in helping me to recover from these events.

"I have been very humbled by the kindness and support offered to me and my family by friends,neighbours,former patients, the staff at my surgery, the people of Tullamore, Edenderry and surrounding areas,and the complete strangers who have taken the time to send messages,cards, flowers , Mass Bouquets and letters. Your positive energy has helped me and my family enormously in surviving the past 4 years and in particular during the course of the trial.

"As I said in my evidence Emily was my little bird with a broken wing whom I loved, cared for and protected. Our struggle is mirrored in the lives of so many people in similar situations in Ireland. Like me,very many parents and Carers of children who are disabled, struggle on a daily basis to get access to services and support systems which are very often simply not there.

"Four years ago I was in a very dark place and felt I had no reason to live after Emily had passed. I understand what it is like to be in that place but with the help and support of family, friends and particularly the excellent professional support I received at St Patrick's Hospital I found the strength to go on.

"To anyone with mental health difficulties or who has gone to that dark place of considering self- harm I would plead with you to reach out to even one person and say how you feel and get the help you need.

"I respect the need to investigate Emily's death but the past 4 years have been a living hell for me and my family. I have not only lost my beloved Emily but was unable to attend her funeral.

"I haven't yet had the opportunity to properly grieve for her or celebrate her precious life. These proceedings have left me traumatised and emotionally,physically and mentally exhausted. I would therefore respectfully request privacy for myself and my family and I request that there be no further press or media intrusion into our lives."

Earlier, the jury had reached their unanimous verdict after deliberating for four hours and two minutes.

As the foreman said: "not guilty," a tiny smile of relief formed on Dr Scully's face and her sisters burst into tears.

Dr Scully sat still, appearing almost stunned and then sighed deeply.

The jury were excused and were excused from jury service and as they left the court room, one of Dr Scully's sisters waved, mouthing "thank you."

Judge Patrick McCarthy told them that it was "inappropriate" to make gestures towards the jury.

Tears streamed down the face of Dr Scully as she and her family left the courtroom.

Well wishers came up and shook her hand and she thanked them all.

She also thanked the media and her sister thanked for the way they had treated the case "with dignity."

Emily had microcephaly, severe epilepsy and couldn’t speak or move. She’d been in pain for the last eight days of her life, having had a medical procedure to replace the tube into her stomach, through which she received fluids and medication.

Dr Scully said, in earlier evidence, she had administered chloral hydrate when her daughter became upset at 2am and 6am that day. She said her daughter then had a massive fit after 11am and she administered more. She said she had given more than double in those nine hours that she had ever previously given in 24 hours. She told gardai she knew she had given too much.

Emily died and Dr Scully tried to take her own life twice, the second time by overdosing on medication for which she had written a prescription in her elderly mother’s name. She had sent her partner to fill the prescription, its purpose unkown to him. He found Emily dead and Dr Scully unconscious that evening.

Laboratory tests showed that Emily’s blood contained 10 times the therapeutic levels of the chloral hydrate’s metabolite and a post-mortem exam found she had died from chloral hydrate intoxication. The State Pathologist said that, potentially, those levels were fatal.

However, Professor Marie Cassidy said she had suffered a seizure six to eight hours before her death and that any of her illnesses could have contributed. She also said that she had been at risk of a potentially fatal seizure at any time.

The State argued that the chloral hydrate was a substantial cause of death. It did not have to prove it to be the only cause.

Tara Burns SC, prosecuting, said it wasn’t in doubt that Dr Scully loved her daughter very much and cared for her to the highest level.

“What this case is about is the events of a specific day when chloral hydrate was administered,” she said, noting the levels Dr Scully had said she had given.

“Any reasonable person in the situation Dr Scully was in, a doctor, would have realised that administering that level of chloral hydrate carried a high degree of risk of causing a substantial risk of injury to her daughter,” she said, outlining the prosecution case.

Dr Scully’s legal team argued that there was a clear indication in the post-mortem results of the possibility of a terminal seizure and Kenneth Fogarty SC said that the traumatic event that had led to the maladministration alleged was indeed a massive seizure after 11 o’clock.

He said it was clear that the only reason a person would administer more chloral hydrate was if the initial dose was not achieving the desired result. He pointed out that other anticonvulsant medications had life-threatening effects on Emily.

He also noted that nobody had a formula to equate the amount of chloral hydrate taken into a body with the amount of its metabolite that would be found in the blood.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy told the jury that it had to be satisfied that the accused had failed to observe the ordinary and necessary care expected of her to the point that she was negligent in a very high degree. That negligence must have brought a very high degree of risk of substantial personal injury to others.

He said it did not matter what the accused woman’s state of mind was.

He said that, in the case of a doctor, she could follow general and approved medical practice, unless obviously defective. She could depart from that practice unless it involved something no similarly qualified expert exercising care would do.

He reminded the jury of the evidence of a retired consultant paediatrician, who was also a member of the Advisory Committee for Human Medicines, the national body that decides if drugs are safe and effective.

Dr Kevin Connolly had been asked about the high doses of chloral hydrate Dr Scully said she had given her daughter in a short timeframe.

He referred to people, who metabolise drugs at different rates to most people in clinical trials.

“If Emily was one of those outliers, and it had been found she required more frequent or higher doses, then this was appropriate,” he said.

He explained that Emily’s body might have been able to handle an increasing dose up to a certain point but then became overwhelmed.

“That can happen, that the body can only take so much and then it’s too much,” he said.

The seven women and five men began considering their verdict on Thursday morning. They returned to court with their unanimous verdict of not guilty following four hours and two minutes of deliberations.

Gasps were heard in court following the announcement by the registrar of the verdict. Dr Scully acknowledged her family members, some of whom began weeping.

The judge thanked the jury and discharged the members before moving onto other cases. Dr Scully and her family embraced each other before leaving the court, outside which wellwishers gathered to congratulate her.

More to follow

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