Woman accused of assisting suicide denies knowingly paying for lethal drugs

Woman accused of assisting suicide denies knowingly paying for lethal drugs

A woman accused of helping her friend take her own life denied to gardaí that she knowingly paid for lethal drugs for the deceased.

Gail O’Rorke said that she had a “gut feeling something was going to happen” the day before Bernadette Forde’s suicide but that she couldn’t do anything to stop it.

“I’m glad she did what she had to do and is at peace,” she said in a statement to gardaí made the day after the death. “I’m also glad she didn’t tell me as I would have refused to help. I think this is a necessary evil for her to do.”

Ms Forde (51), a former human resources manager with Guinness, took her own life in June 2011 using the drug pentobarbital after it was ordered online from Mexico.

The trial also heard today that Ms O’Rorke was to inherit 30 percent of the residue of Ms Forde’s estate. Ms Forde’s solicitor Maurice O’Callaghan told the trial that he was completely satisfied that no undue pressure was being put on the woman regarding her will.

Ms O’Rorke (43), a taxi driver from Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght has pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the suicide of Ms Forde by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance between April 20, 2011 and June 6, 2011 at a location in Dublin.

She also denies that she attempted to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of attempting to arrange travel to Zurich, Switzerland for such purpose between March 10 and April 20, 2011 and that she procured the suicide of Ms Forde between June 4, and June 6, 2011 by means of making funeral arrangements for Ms Forde in advance of her death.

Garda Andrew Dermody told prosecuting counsel James Dwyer BL that in a statement taken the day after Ms Forde’s death, Ms O’Rorke detailed how she had started as a cleaner for Ms Forde but that they developed “a bond and a friendship.” She said that they would spend a lot of time together and go for lunch two or three times a week.

The accused described how Ms Forde’s multiple sclerosis was getting worse and was aggravated by a car crash in 2008 which hospitalised them both and left Ms Forde permanently confined to a wheelchair.

She said Ms Forde was “angry but accepting” of her disease; “She had done a lot of research; she knew how disease would progress.”

She said Ms Forde began to talk about the euthanasia clinic, Dignitas. She said “she didn’t want to end up in a home”

“I supported her because it was something she wanted. I supported her on her decision,” Ms O’Rorke said.

She said they booked a trip to Dignitas in Zurich. The court earlier heard that gardaí intervened and stopped them travelling after a tip-off from the travel agent.

Ms O’Rorke said she didn’t understand the legal implications of going with Ms Forde and that she was unaware it was an offence until she was told by gardaí.

The accused said that after this Ms Forde became less open about her intentions. She said she started clearing out her house and giving away things, claiming that it was “to make room for the wheelchair.” She said she also made a new draft of her will.

She said she last saw Ms Forde on the day before her death. Ms Forde told her that she loved her and gave her two cards.

“I had a gut feeling something was going to happen but I knew I couldn’t stop it,” Ms O’Rorke said.

She said when she left Ms Forde seemed very happy and was showing one of the children something on the television. The accused said she found out her friend was dead when she asked a neighbour to check in on her the next day.

Ms O’Rorke said she remembers sending €400 via Western Union to Mexico on behalf of Ms Forde in the weeks before her death. She said she never asked what this was for as Ms Forde was always shopping online and it was just one of many errands she asked Ms O’Rorke to do.

The accused said Ms Forde later told her she had ordered “stuff” from Mexico and had used her to transfer the money. She said she had also downloaded something called “the peaceful pill handbook” from the internet.

“I had no prior knowledge of what (the money) was for and if I had I would have refused, especially after Dignitas,” she said.

The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of six men and six women.

Ms Forde’s solicitor Maurice O’Callaghan told the court that the accused was left 30 per cent of the residue of her late friend’s estate in her will. 

Mr O’Callaghan said he asked Ms Forde in some detail about her decision to have “a stranger” and non-family member as a major beneficiary.

He testified that Ms Forde instructed him that she was doing this because “Gail makes her life better.”

The witness said he was aware of Ms Forde’s medical condition of multiple sclerosis. He said at their first meeting he dealt “in great detail” with the issue of whether any pressure was being applied to Ms Forde by Ms O’Rorke.

He said he was absolutely satisfied that there was no undue influence on his client. He said he was 100 per cent satisfied that Ms Forde was of sound mind and was in full capacity to make out her will.

He told the court: “Gail wasn’t pointing a gun to her head, wasn’t applying pressure. She said Gail makes her life better”.

Reading from his notes of the meeting with Ms Forde the solicitor stated: “From now on Gail is stuck with the unenviable task of washing her. She started out as a cleaner then became a wonderful friend”.

The solicitor testified that he knew Ms Forde was suicidal and that she had told him that she was going to travel to Switzerland for an assisted suicide with Dignitas.

“Bernadette told me Gail was going to hold her hand at the time," he told Dermott McGuinness SC, defending.

He told Judge McCartan that he never thought he was aiding or abetting the suicide of Ms Forde by taking details of the instructions of her funeral. 

Judge McCartan asked him: “Did you ever stop to think you were breaking the law” and Mr O’Callaghan replied no. 

He added: “I don’t believe for a second I was breaking the law” and Judge McCartan replied “Nor do I” before he went on to say that he was asking because “I’m trying to address what is the difference between you and the accused.”

Mary Cunniffe, from Massey Brothers funeral directors said that on June 2, 2011 she received a telephone call. She described it as a three way call in which Ms O’Rorke was calling on behalf of Ms Forde.

She said she was speaking to Ms O’Rorke who was relaying everything back to Ms Forde. She said she believed the callers were in a car at the time and that the accused was repeating Ms Forde’s wishes. 

Ms Cunniffe said in her mind this was Ms Forde arranging her own funeral. She said she was told Ms Forde was suffering from MS and was in a bad way and that she said she had made plans to go abroad but “their plans were squashed”. 

“In the back of my mind I felt that Ms Forde was planning to end it all perhaps,” she said.

The witness said it was not unusual for people to plan their own funeral and that no date was set with the women.