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Assisted suicide case woman cleared

Published 28/04/2015

Gail O'Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
Gail O'Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court

A taxi driver has been found not guilty of attempting to assist the suicide of a wheelchair bound friend suffering the final stages of multiple sclerosis.

In what is believed to be the first trial of its kind in Ireland, Gail O'Rorke, 43, from Kilclare Gardens in Tallaght, Dublin, was charged over the booking of flights to Switzerland between March 10 and April 20 2011 to travel to the Dignitas clinic.

Bernadette Forde, 51, a former employee with Guinness in Dublin, died at her home in Morehampton Mews, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 on June 6 2011.

She was unable to go to Zurich after a travel agent alerted authorities that flights had been booked for her, her nephew Bernard Forde Monaghan and O'Rorke.

A jury of six men and six women at the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin returned the not guilty verdict after more than seven hours of deliberations.

The jury's verdict was by majority decision.

In emotional scenes, Ms O'Rorke burst into tears and clasped her hands to her face.

Supporters, relatives and friends who were in the court throughout the trial clapped and cheered as the verdict was delivered.

Judge Patrick McCartan told Ms O'Rorke: "You have been found not guilty. You are free to go."

She was Ms Forde's cleaner before becoming her friend and carer over the last 10 years of her life as she became wheelchair bound following a devastating car accident in the Brown Thomas car park in Dublin.

During the trial the court heard how Ms O'Rorke answered panic alarm calls day and night if Ms Forde fell, sacrificed hours on the road earning money in her taxi to care for her, washed her feet, helped her in the bathroom and ensured she got outside.

Last week she was found not guilty of two charges in connection with the suicide on the direction of Judge Patrick McCartan.

Ms O'Rorke was initially cleared of aiding and abetting Ms Forde's suicide between April 20 and June 6 in 2011 by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance.

The court heard Ms Forde signed for a courier package at her home which contained barbiturates sourced from Mexico.

Ms O'Rorke was also found not guilty last week of procuring the suicide by making funeral arrangements from June 4-6 2011 in advance of the death.

Ms Forde was found dead in a wheelchair in her living room having taken a lethal dose of barbiturates.

Judge McCartan thanked the jurors and told them they would not be asked to sit on a jury for 10 years.

"Justice has been served," he said.

Ms Forde was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 2001 and had to give up her job in the human resources department in Guinness.

In 2008 she was confined to a wheelchair after the car park crash caused by her leg going into spasm - a common MS symptom - which forced the accelerator and slammed the vehicle into a wall.

She spent four months in hospital after that, had multiple liver surgery and both knees were left shattered.

Ms O'Rorke was also in the car and injured in the accident.

The trial also heard Ms Forde wanted to end her own life and no-one could have persuaded her not to.

It heard that her wish to choose her time of death was sparked by the loss in 2010 of her sister Marcena who had cancer.

During the trial the court heard Ms O'Rorke received 30% of Ms Forde's estate in her will.

Ireland decriminalised suicide in 1993 but the offence of aiding and abetting a suicide remains on the statute books making assisted suicide illegal.

Unlike England and Wales, where guidelines have been issued on when a prosecution should be taken for assisted suicide, no formal advice has been published by the Director of Public Prosecutions in Dublin.

The late Marie Fleming lost a landmark legal battle in Ireland in 2013 for the right to decide her time of death without the risk of anyone being prosecuted for helping her.

Judges in the Supreme Court said the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act would make it illegal but that it remained open for politicians to reform.

Ms Fleming died in her Wicklow home in 2013 while her partner Tom Curran campaigns with Exit International, an organisation which advocates the legalisation of euthanasia.

Ms O'Rorke was initially Ms Forde's cleaner but as the pair grew to be friends she was in effect her primary carer, willing to answer panic alarm calls at any hour.

The trial heard how over the course of 10 years Ms O'Rorke took her out, washed her feet, helped her in the bathroom and tidied her house.

She was not with Ms Forde on the night she died.

The court heard that during Garda interviews Ms O'Rorke told detectives another friend of Ms Forde's, Mary Lundy, was with her.

Lawyers for Ms O'Rorke issued a statement on her behalf after the verdict.

"The last four years and in particular the last three weeks have been very difficult for my family and me," she said.

"The family of my dear late friend Bernadette Forde has had to endure the intrusions into her privacy which she always guarded so carefully. The trial has now concluded with the hoped for verdict."

Ms O'Rorke thanked the judge, jury and gardai who she said investigated her friend's death compassionately.

She also thanked her lawyers and added: "Above all I would like to thank my family and friends for their incredible support especially during the past three weeks which has been a truly gruelling ordeal for all of us. Finally I want to thank my husband Barry whose love and support have never faltered."

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