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Una Butler: 'He was a good father... He did suffer from depression'


Una Butler with her daughter Ella

Una Butler with her daughter Ella

Una Butler with her daughter Ella

A mother who lost her two young daughters and husband in a murder suicide six years ago said there aren’t enough investigations and research into mental health to prevent more tragedies from happening.

Cork mother Una Butler lost her two daughters, Zoe (6) and Ella (2), and her husband, John (43), in a horrific murder-suicide six years ago.

John had been suffering from depression and took his own life minutes after killing his adored little girls in the family’s home in November 2010.

Una was speaking to Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 following the tragic murder-suicide in Cavan yesterday where Alan Hawe, his wife Clodagh and their three children Liam (13), Niall (11) and Ryan (6) were found dead in their house in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan yesterday morning.

Una told RTÉ Radio 1 that there had been no hints that her children’s safety was at risk from their father.

“John loved his children,” she said. “He had never been physically abusive to me or Zoe or Ella. He was a good father. He was a very hard worker.

“He did suffer with depression, which was quite difficult to live with, but I’m looking back now with hindsight and I’m saying: I should have been involved with his treatment. The medical professionals would have had a better insight into his behaviour and I would have been able to learn about his illness. I might have been able to support him better, or be able to deal with his illness in a better way, if I had been educated about his illness.

“People are dead and the gardai have done their job but these cases are being brushed under the carpet and are being forgotten about and that’s the way I feel about it. There aren’t enough investigations into these cases to learn from them and to help prevent other cases from happening."

Una said that families should be involved in the mental health treatment of their loved ones to prevent tragedies like this.

“Would you not agree if a member of the family were involved in the patient’s treatment speaking with the doctor that they would get a better insight into the patient’s behaviour at home? I think the patient might only say what the doctor wants to know and not the full story.

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"I think it should be compulsory to have a family member involved because I’m looking back in hindsight and thinking yeah I should have been involved in the treatment.”

Una said she did participate in some of her husband’s treatment but that he was in “isolation” most of the time.

“I was there in a few appointments and I felt he was treated in isolation. I was in there for maybe five minutes always in the presence of John but I was never spoken to on my own by a medical professional at the time. I look back in hindsight and think if it was made compulsory that I have to be there I think definitely.”

She said she urges the community in Cavan to “be there” for the extended family.

“It’s a very cruel, unbelievable nightmare to be living every day,” Una said.

“I have to get out and about and keep active really. Support of friends and family is very important.

“A lot of people will know the immediate family but just be there for support. My friends at the time were very supportive towards me and the community as well. I was numb and in shock for the first 12 months to be honest with you. The reality of it all only sunk in years later. First year you’re in denial and shock. What can you say? Just be there for each other and that’s all they can do. I’m speechless, it’s numbing.”

Dr Ian Gargan, a consultant and forensic scientist, told RTÉ Radio 1, that he agrees with Una about families participating in treatment.

“I am very upset today about the news in Cavan yesterday and I offer my deepest condolences to Una, a very sad time for her and Cavan.

“I agree with Una that it’s always good to get more research or insight into how mental health works. The people you want to research or get to know aren’t around because they’ve killed themselves and they’ve possibly killed others and their family if it’s a murder suicide.”

Dr Gargan said it can be “difficult” doing research as patient’s records are hard to get.

“I as a doctor whenever I’m treating a patient and in the initial stages will always say that patient- doctor confidentiality is always of paramount but if that patient during the treatment voices the opinion that they want to harm themselves or others you are obliged to let people know in the community, those who are in danger of being hurt or the GP or other resources.

“I completely agree that the family should be involved in the treatment and more often than not patients would be offered the opportunity that their partner, friend or close peer be brought in to be involved in their treatment. Most cases they have agreed.

"There’s always a danger that a patient might withhold, that someone will not give you the full information for whatever reason and that could be not out of any malevolence but they feel shame and guilt for their thoughts.”

Dr Gargan said that the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) will be made available in schools in Cavan.

“The NEPS is an excellent service and of course it’s a very difficult task for anyone. I find it very difficult to understand what happened in my 20 years of experience in mental health treatment and assessment. It’s incredibly complex, upsetting and traumatising,” Ian said.

“What the psychologists will do initially is give advice to the teachers and to the friends and extended family and possibly leaders of the community on how they can support the extended family as well as the other children in school who will be wondering why their little friends wont be returning.

“They have to explain that people aren’t around or there’s been a tragedy or death. I imagine it’ll be even more difficult to explain, and every psychologist will approach it in their own way but,  I’d imagine that scripts will be given to say they’ve gone away or they’ve been separated from this part of community, they’ve left us, they’ve died. I doubt they will go into the logistics of what happened to the children especially for the young population along Cavan.”

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