Wednesday 18 September 2019

Loving mother who didn't understamd what she was doing

Friends, colleagues and family never suspected the turmoil within this mild-mannered woman, writes Larissa Nolan

Larissa Nolan

Not guilty by reason of insanity. It was only the second time in Irish history that those six words had been issued in a court in Ireland, under new insanity laws.

On hearing them, Dr Lynn Gibbs' impassive face managed a smile, as family and friends came over to the bench where she sat in Court Number One of the Central Criminal Court.

Of course, there was little to smile about -- the psychiatrist had spent two days on trial for the murder of her teenage daughter.

Lynn Gibbs admitted to drowning the 16-year-old in the bath after becoming convinced she was suffering from anorexia, and that there was no hope for Ciara.

It is something that Lynn Gibbs will have to deal with for the rest of her life.

But with the verdict, Dr Gibbs and her family at least had the consolation of knowing that publicly, it had been recognised that she was not a bad, evil woman, who had cruelly killed her own child; but that she was deeply unwell at the time, suffering with -- as a number of professionals testified -- a severe form of psychotic depression and bipolar disorder.

The only tragedy, the court heard, was that it hadn't been spotted sooner, by her friends, family and colleagues in the medical profession.

If so, the psychotic episode that led to the killing could have been averted and Ciara Gibbs would still be alive today.

It is an intervention that those who knew the Gibbs family, from Killure, near Gowran, about 20km from Kilkenny City, wish could have happened sooner.

Anne Ryan -- a local activist who works with those suffering from mental health problems, to ensure they receive the proper treatment and care -- said it was shocking to think that Dr Gibbs had been working as a locum psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry in St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, but no-one spotted that she was suffering from a serious and dangerous form of depression.

Some colleagues and friends who work in the medical profession were aware that she was ill, but could not see she was headed for a psychotic episode that would lead to such tragic events.

"She was working as a psychiatrist with the HSE just a few weeks before the killing," said Ms Ryan.

"It is worth remembering that psychiatrists are just the same as everyone else -- they suffer depression, they commit suicide, they fall victim to alcohol addiction, they self-medicate.

"They are not superhuman, just because their job is to look after the mental health of others. We cannot forget that."

Anne Ryan did not know Lynn Gibbs personally, but said that everyone else who knew her described her as "gentle" and "kind" and "a quiet lady".

A local businesswoman who knows Dr Gibbs well said she was the last person you would expect to carry out such an horrific act on her own child.

"She was quite nun-like, a quiet type who didn't make an impression one way or the other. If you saw her, you would hardly remember her. "

From a wealthy family, she was rich enough to afford to have her own apartment when she studied psychiatry in Trinity College, Dublin.

"That was very unusual at the time, there was plenty of money in her family. They were rich farmers. When she married Gerard, there was a feeling she had wed below her," said the woman.

Another County Kilkenny person who knew her painted a picture of a somewhat controlling mother.

The Gibbs, Lynn, 47, and her college lecturer husband Gerard had two children, Ciara and her

brother Gearoid, 14, neither of whom were allowed socialise much and were rarely seen out.

"Perhaps she was just over-anxious, but she seemed to like keeping Ciara and Gearoid at home all the time. You would never see them out, in fact, some people would not have even known they had children.

"After Ciara's death, a neighbour told me they did not even know there were kids in the house."

Locals say Ciara was a brilliant, hard-working student who got 13 As in her Junior Certificate exams. But she was not allowed to take the bus to her school in Loreto in Kilkenny and she was not allowed to use her mobile phone to call friends in the evening.

But those who knew Lynn told Justice Paul Carney that she had been a loving mother who put her children before anything else.

Husband Gerard Gibbs even broke down in the witness stand, holding his head in his hands an whispering "she loved Ciara" in evident distress.

Psychotherapist Leslie Shoemaker says that sometimes, but not always, anorexia can be caused by growing up in a "perfectionist" environment.

Ms Shoemaker said: "Anorexia is a complex disorder, but in certain cases, it can be caused, maintained and even recovery can be scuppered by family relationships.

"You do get a pattern of anorexia sufferers who are children of controlling parents, a mother or a father who is a perfectionist. This pressure to be perfect is a trait in anorexics.

"Also, if the parent is isolating the child from others, this will also be a factor."

Perhaps it was her own background that led to Lynn Gibbs' over-anxiety about her daughter, worrying that Ciara, who weighed eight stone, was suffering from an eating disorder and feeling she would be better off dead.

Dr Gibbs' mother Iris Hutchison killed herself in 1983 when she drank weedkiller.

Last Wednesday, the jury took just 21 minutes to return the verdict of not guilty for reasons of insanity.

The jury agreed that she either did not know the quality of her actions; that she did not know what she was doing was wrong, or that she was unable to refrain from what she was doing.

She will remain in treatment at the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum until an order is made by the State for her release.

Justice Carney, in summing up, had advised the jury that to return any other verdict would be to suggest that "all psychiatry is bunkum".

Superintendent Aidan Roche, of Thomastown Garda Station, later said he welcomed the verdict.

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