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Maeve Sheehan: Tragic Kate's story not yet finished

THE story of Kate Fitzgerald resonated with many people. She was bright and attractive, a writer and a media consultant; she also suffered from depression.

She came to national prominence in death, when she was identified as the author of an anonymous article about depression which she had written days before she died on August 22, 2011. Such was the interest in Kate's story that when The Irish Times, the newspaper that published her article, later apologised to her employer for what she had written, an online petition followed.

Kate was widely believed to have killed herself. Her body was found at her home in Dublin's south city. She had a history of depression. Her parents, Tom and Sally, were told by the authorities that their cherished daughter had taken her own life.

But all was not as it seemed.

This weekend, it has emerged that gardai have launched a new investigation into the circumstances of Kate's death after evidence suggested that she may possibly have died in suspicious circumstances.

The Garda Ombudsman is separately investigating a complaint from Kate's parents, Tom and Sally Fitzgerald, about the handling of the original investigation that followed the discovery of their daughter's body.

It would appear that the Fitzgeralds have endured a horrendous 10 months since they lost Kate. Their grief has been compounded by factors that were beyond their control.

They believed that their daughter's memory was tarnished by the paper she aspired to work for; they had concerns about the garda investigation that followed the discovery of her body; and now await the outcome of a full-blown garda investigation to establish whether or not their daughter's death was suspicious.

Kate Fitzgerald was a vibrant and engaging young woman. She was born in California, where her Irish father met her American mother. The family later moved back to Bantry in west Cork.

Kate studied international relations at Dublin City University. She ran the debating society there for a while. She revitalised the organisation, Democrats Abroad, in Ireland. A few days before she died, she went for an interview with Ernst & Young. The company later told her parents she was the main contender for the job.

Before she died, Kate had written of her admiration for her mother: "Above all of these things I hope I inherited [my mother's] strength in the face of adversity."

Kate's last conversation occurred just before 7pm on August 22. She spoke to Peter Murtagh, who was then opinion editor of The Irish Times.

She had submitted an article documenting her hospitalisation for depression and her treatment in the workplace for publication. She asked that it be published anonymously. The Irish Times did not usually accept anonymous articles but, impressed with what she wrote, the newspaper made an exception for Kate.

Her article was published two weeks later on September 9. Unknown to The Irish Times, Kate was dead by then.

Her father recognised his daughter from the article. He rang the newspaper, saying he believed that the author of the anonymous piece was his daughter and that she had taken her own life before her article was published.

That Kate should have written such an article and then taken her own life was deeply moving. Peter Murtagh, with the help of Kate's family, wrote a long feature, identifying Kate as the author of the anonymous article on depression, and going on to talk about her life.

The article became one of the newspaper's most read articles and was picked up on Facebook and Twitter. The website Broadsheet.ie identified the Communications Clinic as Kate's employer, and thereby the subject of the allegations in Kate's anonymous article.

The Communications Clinic complained to The Irish Times. The public relations company is run by Terry Prone. Her husband, Tom Savage is a director. In response, The Irish Times removed key parts from the online version of Kate's article. It later published an apology to the public relations firm on December 3, saying that some of the facts in Kate's article were "not factual".

Kate's parents were outraged. They believed The Irish Times was effectively calling their daughter a liar. They asked the newspaper to publish a retraction. The newspaper declined, although its editors met with the Fitzgeralds twice.

Tom and Sally Fitzgerald later wrote: "We are saddened that the paper of record has chosen to delete Kate's last words from the public record.

"We consider it a tragedy that The Irish Times has let down one of its greatest fans, an aspiring young writer, and erased her final message to the world."

The Fitzgeralds complained to the Press Ombudsman, who last week upheld their complaint: he found that the apology to the Communications Clinic published in the newspaper had "failed to take into account the feelings of Tom and Sally Fitzgerald, who were grieving over the death by suicide of their daughter Kate".

The family were not happy with the result. Their other grounds for complaint were not considered by the Ombudsman. It now transpires that while the Fitzgerald family were dealing with these issues, concerns were emerging into the garda investigation into Kate's death.

All suspected suicides are reported to gardai, who must in turn prepare a report for the coroner. As part of that, a post-mortem is usually carried out.

According to sources close to the case, the Fitzgeralds were concerned that certain aspects of Kate's death may not have been thoroughly followed up by the garda team appointed to the case.

There were lines of inquiry they felt should be pursued. In late January, Kate's parents made a complaint to the Garda Ombudsman about the manner in which the investigation was handled.

The post-mortem results suggested that there were possible grounds for suspecting that Kate's death could have been suspicious. But the Fitzgeralds claimed that it appeared that this aspect of the case was not adequately followed up by the gardai.

Kate's parents became aware of the post-mortem results and raised them with the Garda Ombudsman. According to garda sources, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan felt there were sufficient grounds to open a fresh investigation and appointed a detective superintendent at Pearse Street garda station to lead it.

Tom Fitzgerald confirmed last weekend that a complaint had been lodged with the Garda Ombudsman. He declined to comment on the subject of a garda investigation.

Sunday Independent