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GAA star Sean Hackett had secret need to kill parent, appeal court told

By Alan Erwin

Published 24/06/2015

Sean Hackett’s mother Eilis (centre) leaving court yesterday
Sean Hackett’s mother Eilis (centre) leaving court yesterday
Sean lifts the Minor league Cup
Father Aloysius Hackett

A former Tyrone GAA star who shot dead his father had been harbouring a secret need to kill one of his parents, the Court of Appeal has heard.

A consultant psychiatrist who assessed Sean Hackett told judges he is suffering from one of the purest forms of delusional disorder she has ever encountered.

Describing the case as unlike any other in Northern Ireland, Dr Carine Minne claimed the 20-year-old's mental illness now requires expert medical attention.

She said: "He's not just a homicide risk while he remains untreated, but also a suicide risk."

Hackett is challenging a minimum 10-year prison term imposed for the manslaughter of his father Aloysius at the family home near Augher, Co Tyrone, in January 2013.

A jury found him guilty last year on the grounds of diminished responsibility after acquitting him of murder.

Aloysius Hackett, a former chairman of St Macartan's GAC in Augher, was shot twice in the head on the driveway of his Aghindarrah Road home.

His son Sean, who once captained the Tyrone Minor GAA team, admitted the shooting but consistently denied murder.

At his trial it was set out how he had suffered depression in the preceding months, triggered by a split from his girlfriend.

Defence lawyers are now appealing the sentence by arguing that a hospital order should be considered as an alternative.

James Gallagher QC, for Hackett, stressed his client could not be accused of trying to manipulate the criminal justice system.

"The accused has said he considers that he doesn't need treatment, but he acknowledged if the treatment is available to him he will avail of his," he told the court. "If a hospital order is deemed appropriate he would comply with that."

Dressed in a white shirt, black tie and trousers, Hackett was escorted into court by guards for the appeal hearing.

His mother Eilish, who he tried to strangle months before the shooting, sat in the public gallery with family members.

She listened as Mr Gallagher told the three judges the relationship between her son and husband was "like brothers".

Up to five psychiatrists back the view that Hackett was in a delusional state of mind when he carried out the killing.

One of those experts called to give fresh evidence was Dr Minne, who is based at the high security Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire.

She identified a series of factors contributing to Hackett's mental health deteriorating in the months leading up to the shooting.

As well as breaking up with a girlfriend, the psychiatrist pointed to the death of a grandparent and the blow to his self-esteem when he failed to be picked for a football team.

By autumn 2012 he had developed a belief that killing either of his parents would solve his problems, she claimed.

"He kept that secret to himself, and this delusion kept recurring over the coming weeks," Dr Minne told the court. Hackett first lured his mother into the family garage in a bid to strangle her, only to come to his senses and stop when she struggled and screamed. Dr Minne revealed: "To quote him, he said 'I just knew I had to do it'."

He was taken to see his GP after that but was said to have insisted nothing was wrong as part of a "minimisation" of his illness.

At one point Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan asked Dr Minne if she knew of anything else like Hackett's case.

She replied: "I'm not aware of another case of this type in Northern Ireland, but I have seen, assessed and treated cases of this kind through Broadmoor Hospital."

Following the attempted strangulation, Hackett's thinking was said to have remained the same.

"The idea of needing to kill one of his parents persisted in his mind, but unbeknown to his family," Dr Minne told the court.

The intensity of his relationship with them had been heightened by his brothers and sister all being away from home.

In her assessment of Hackett she said he recalled feeling excited and tense as he heard his father arrive home.

After firing the first shot the victim's son, in his delusional state, felt he had to shoot again to ensure he was dead, the court heard.

The psychiatrist added that since being taken into custody he has been "a poster boy prisoner", adhering to all rules.

According to her assessment, any treatment in a psychiatric regime could take between five and 10 years.

Under cross-examination Ciaran Murphy QC, for the Crown, argued that Hackett had been capable of making decisions and exercising self-control in preparing and planning the shooting.

Dr Minne responded that by that stage there was no longer a sane part of his mind.

However, Mr Murphy insisted Hackett's mental functioning enabled him to fire the gun, hide the weapon in a car boot and claim at first that a burglar may have carried out the shooting.

"It wasn't dream-like when doing all these acts. They were well-directed," the barrister contended.

Following submissions, Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, reserved judgment in the appeal.

Belfast Telegraph

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