Sunday 15 September 2019

'She was a little bird with a broken wing. My job was to protect her'

Bernadette Scully is accused of the manslaughter of her beloved and profoundly disabled daughter Emily

Bernadette Scully (58) of Emvale, Bachelor’s Walk, Tullamore, is charged with the manslaughter of her daughter, Emily Barut (11). Photo: Collins Courts
Bernadette Scully (58) of Emvale, Bachelor’s Walk, Tullamore, is charged with the manslaughter of her daughter, Emily Barut (11). Photo: Collins Courts

Natasha Reid

A jury of seven women and five men will determine the guilt or innocence of Bernadette Scully, the 58-year-old general practitioner accused of the manslaughter of her profoundly disabled 11-year-old daughter, Emily Barut.

Ms Scully, on trial at the Central Criminal Court, is charged with unlawfully killing Emily at their home at Emvale, Bachelor's Walk, Tullamore. It is alleged that she killed her by an act of gross negligence, involving the administration of an excessive quantity of the sedative chloral hydrate, on September 15, 2012.

She has pleaded not guilty.


The jury of 12 and presiding judge Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy heard evidence of statements Ms Scully gave to gardai when she was arrested, in which she said she did not make a conscious decision to take her daughter "out of this world" when she gave her too much sedative.

Inspector Ger Glavin of Portlaoise Garda Station testified that he arrested Ms Scully on April 7, 2014, and she was interviewed four times that day.

The trial has heard that Emily had severe epilepsy, as well as microcephaly and cerebral palsy.

She had the mental age of a six-month-old, and could not move or speak.

Ms Scully explained to gardai that Emily had been in a lot of pain for the last two weeks of her life, after having a procedure to replace the tube into her stomach through which she received fluids and medication.

She said she had given her daughter chloral hydrate when she became upset at 2am and 6am, and had given it again when she had an "unprecedented" seizure around 11am.

It was just the two of them in the house as her partner was attending her nephew's funeral.

"My whole aim had been to keep her alive and keep her going," she said.

She told gardai that she had never given that much chloral hydrate before and accepted she had given too much.

"What was I to do, stand there and watch her fit?" she asked.

She said 'her little lips went blue' when she gave her the final syringe.

"I'm not sure how long it took. It seemed like an eternity," she added.

"My hands were shaking," she said. "I took her up in my arms and she died in my arms."

It was put to her that she was relieved when it was over, but she said that's not how she felt.

"I wanted to go with her. Even to this day, I didn't want her to be on her own," she said.

"At the time, I didn't stop to think," she said. "I had nothing else to give her."


The defence cross-examined Insp Glavin.

Kenneth Fogarty SC, pointed to other possible contributors to her death mentioned in the post-mortem report. These included two of her illnesses and inflammation of the lungs.

"Were the investigators' minds closed off to other possibilities?" Insp Galvin was asked.

Insp Glavin said that consideration had been given to other possible causes of death, but that "there were excessive amounts of chloral hydrate administered".

He said the full post-mortem report had been put to the accused in interview, and that Ms Scully had "ample opportunity to highlight any other issues as to cause of death."

"The gardai did not enter the interview room blinkered as to chloral hydrate being everything. As an investigator and interviewer, I could not ignore the figures Dr Scully produced during interview and also the figures produced in the toxicology report."


Ms Scully gave evidence questioned by her own counsel. She testified about her earlier life before the birth of Emily. She had married a doctor in 1986. "It became apparent during the course of our marriage that he was homosexual. I had got married in good faith. He was working in the practice as well and it was very difficult," she said. The marriage was dissolved.

She was later introduced to her second husband and they had Emily together. However, that marriage broke down in 2003 and she was left with his gambling debts and a €1m Revenue bill.

She testified that she had had IVF treatment and suffered two miscarriages before becoming pregnant with Emily.

Emily didn't cry when she was born but the doctor told her she had a lovely, quiet, baby girl. Emily had difficulty feeding and when she was two weeks old, she fell asleep and wouldn't wake up. Ms Scully drove her to hospital in Dublin as her husband didn't drive.

She said she fell into the arms of the doctor she met in Crumlin and began crying.

Measurements were taken and tests carried out.

"The doctor told me: 'She'll have severe mental retardation. She'll probably develop epilepsy. She may not walk. She may not talk. She may have difficulty hearing'. This all just came out just like this. He said a few more words and he just left," she recalled.

She was asked about the hours leading up to Emily's death on that Saturday.

She said she had been off work for six months, but had recently returned to work.

She said that Emily went to sleep around nine that night and Ms Scully went to sleep in the bed beside her around 11 or 12.

"She woke at 2am, upset, crying. It was building up to a crescendo," she recalled. "I got her in beside me, massaged her, walked around a bit with her… She liked to have her head in my chest."

She said she couldn't settle her, and she was beginning to cry louder and louder.

"I said I'd have to help her rest," she said.

She said she didn't want to give chloral hydrate, which she kept for emergencies, without having tried other things. She said she gave it to her at that stage and Emily fell asleep.

She explained that she had given her a 10ml syringe, holding one up in the witness box.

"I didn't sleep after that. I cried. I just felt so sorry for the poor little thing," she said. "It was hard to sleep when she'd be in beside you but she just needed warmth."

She said that Emily was whimpering in her sleep and woke again around six, and was really upset.

"She was sort of stiffening a little as well. You might have said she was fitting at the same time," she said. "She was crying and distressed."

She said that on that night the cry was like that of a baby with colic, who couldn't be consoled.

She said she did all the ordinary things again to try to comfort her.

"Ordinary things didn't do anything for Emily. They wouldn't stop it. The consultants couldn't stop it," she said. "I gave her some more chloral hydrate. I think it was about 7mls."

Ms Scully said that she herself had been crying.

"I wasn't able to help her," she said. "I could cure everybody else and I couldn't help Emily." She said that some time after 11am, Emily started to cry loudly again and she had again tried to comfort her.

"It was just relentless," she said. "You'd have a pain in your brain. I was so tired, I thought, 'what else can I do?'

"She let out a really odd shout out of her. Her little body arched back," she said. "She really started to stiffen and jerk. The bed was shaking. That wasn't normal for Emily."

She said she was subconsciously ticking off all the medicines she couldn't give Emily because she couldn't tolerate them. She said she remembered what a consultant had said about chloral hydrate being an anti-convulsive, as well as a sedative.

"It wasn't a normal fit. Her little face was contorted. I didn't know what was going on."

She said she would usually have someone with her when giving chloral hydrate but her partner had gone to her nephew's memorial service.

"I took the bottle with me and I gave her 10mls and waited a few minutes," she said. "The seizure continued all the time. You'd think it's an eternity."

She said the medicine didn't change it.

"That's what really panicked me," she said. "After a few minutes, when it was still going, I gave her some more."

She said she thought she gave 5mls at that stage.

"Everything went quiet and her little lips went blue on her little face," she said. "I just took her up in my arms and I just held her and it was just so quiet. I knew she wasn't breathing. I said: 'Em, please don't go'."

She said they had always been together.

"She was part of me. We went everywhere together. She was the little baby I always wanted," she said.
"I knew what resuscitation was about and Dr Sheridan had said to me years ago about Emily not being for resuscitation," she said. "Her life was miserable at times, but we did have some lovely times."

She said that when her daughter was gone, she told her she was coming with her.

"I fixed her hair and I put her Padre Pio medals beside her," she said.

"Something just happened in my head. I could not let Emily go somewhere else and suffer somewhere else without me being with her to help her," she said, describing two failed suicide attempts after Emily had passed.

Her barrister, Kenneth Fogarty, SC asked about a suicide note Ms Scully had written that day.

He said that, on one reading of it, it might appear that it had come into existence before Emily's death. She said it had not.

"I loved that child more than life itself," she said. "That letter did not come into existence until afterwards."

She said she was single-minded after Emily had passed. "I needed to get to wherever Emily had gone," she explained.


The prosecution began the cross-examination of Ms Scully and she repeated that her daughter had a massive fit after 11am.

"So, you decide you need to do something to stop this fit?" asked Tara Burns SC, prosecuting.

"I was standing there with her, not there with my logical medical head on me," she replied. "I was working with my emotional mind, as a mother, looking at my baby, thinking 'I am going to have to stop this fit'."

She said that chloral hydrate was the only anticonvulsant she had.

"If you're in a hospital, you don't have that emotional contact that I have with my Emily so you're not standing back and thinking," she said.

Ms Burns questioned her about the aftermath of Emily's passing, when she wrote a suicide note and made two attempts to take her own life.

"Can I suggest to you that the reason for that action was an acknowledgement by you after Emily's death that you had been a cause of her passing?" she asked.

"I wasn't the cause," Ms Scully replied. "I did not cause Emily's death. It's so hurtful to hear that."

She said that she and her daughter were 'just tied together', that she had slept beside her all her life.

It was put to her that she had accepted that she had given her too much chloral hydrate in her voluntary statement to gardai.

"I gave Emily too much in relation to what I normally gave her," she replied. "I would not normally give two doses in one sitting. That's what I meant by that."

Ms Burns suggested that her actions afterwards supported a proposition that she had felt responsible for Emily's death.

"No I didn't. I wanted to go with Emily," she said. "Emily came before anything in my life."

The barrister then asked her to explain two portions of the note: "If anyone thinks I'm awful for doing this, you should have listened to poor little Emily crying the last eight days. I love her dearly, Bernie," she read from the envelope in which the note was found. "I meant, if anyone thinks I'm awful for killing myself. I'm talking about as the doctor, who was working with people who had committed suicide and I was letting them down," replied Ms Scully. "I was very distressed after seeing her suffer so much and I couldn't save her. I wanted to save her." Ms Burns then read from the letter: "I do not want to die. I can not let Emily's suffering continue. I can't watch it any longer. The pain is too big, the struggle each day is too hard, the loneliness and isolation too much."

Ms Scully said she meant that she couldn't let Emily's suffering continue elsewhere.

"I can not watch this world without her. The loneliness and isolation would be too much without her," she added. "I did not have my thoughts clearly organised on paper." Ms Burns noted that she had an absolute love for Emily and had attempted to have her treated with dignity during her life.

"Your conduct after the event doesn't seem to equate with a respect for Emily in terms of letting her peacefully pass," she suggested, however. "There instead seems to be, by your actions, an acknowledgement that this is laid at your door."

Ms Scully didn't agree.

"I had lost my reason for living. I had lost my Emily," she said. "I left Emily in my bed where she wanted always to be." She said Emily was always happiest in that bed, on her chest.

"I laid her peacefully on my bed," she continued. "I did not want to go on. I did not want to live after Emily was gone.

"I had this beautiful little baby. She was like my little bird with a broken wing. My job was to protect her, and not just medically; as her mother," she said. She said they had suffered so much at the hands of services that were not there.

"We were forced back into our little shell," she said. "I created a little world at home for her. It was her beautiful little world."


The jury heard evidence from a private nurse specialising in disabilities, who said Dr Scully had provided a level of care that was "100pc plus" for Emily.

Noreen Roche, with 40 years of nursing experience, visited Dr Scully's home on June 29, 2009 at the request of a solicitor in relation to a family law case and had observed her caring for her daughter.

Ms Roche observed that Dr Scully was "hassled, anxious and run off her feet" from caring for her daughter and working four days a week as a GP, and received 29 hours a week of care from the health service, but she was unsure of this continuing due to cutbacks. She said Emily was one of the most profoundly disabled cases she had come across and that she had wondered if the quality of her care had assisted in her survival.

The jury will return on Tuesday to hear closing arguments.

Sunday Independent

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