Man who stabbed stranger in head committed to mental hospital

Gerard Dowling, who has paranoid schizophrenia, attacked victim in shopping centre

Witness Simon Burke and his partner Margaret O’Brien pictured outside the Central Criminal Court in Dublin last month, where he gave evidence in the trial of Gerard Dowling. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Witness Simon Burke and his partner Margaret O’Brien pictured outside the Central Criminal Court in Dublin last month, where he gave evidence in the trial of Gerard Dowling. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

A man with paranoid schizophrenia who stabbed a stranger in the head in a Kilkenny shopping centre has been committed to the Central Mental Hospital.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the hospital is the appropriate place for Gerard Dowling’s ongoing treatment and that his committal is necessary to ensure his own safety and that of others.

Mr Dowling (40) of The Sycamores, Freshford Road, Kilkenny was charged with the attempted murder of 60-year-old Simon Bourke at Market Cross Shopping Centre in Kilkenny City on July 13th, 2016.

He was also charged with assaulting Mr Bourke causing him harm and to producing a knife during the same incident.

Last month, a jury at the Central Criminal Court found him not guilty by reason of insanity on both charges.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Dr Paul O’Connell of the Central Mental Hospital said that Mr Dowling shows poor insight into his illness and has had difficulty complying with his medication in the past.

He said Mr Dowling suffers from a mental disorder under the Criminal Law Insanity Act and his treatment will take “some time”.

Evidence of improvement

As his treating doctor, he has so far been focusing on stabilising Mr Dowling and has seen evidence of improvement in his condition.

Mr Justice McDermott committed Mr Dowling to the hospital until or if an order is made under Section 13 or 13a of the Criminal Law Insanity Act.

Last month, the trial heard that Mr Bourke and his partner went to Kilkenny City to walk their dog along the canal before having lunch at the Yard Cafe on Kieran’s Street.

Soon after leaving the cafe, they noticed Mr Dowling, whom they did not know, following them. They became more concerned when they stopped at a shoe shop and Mr Dowling stopped also and stared at Mr Bourke.

They walked on to Market Cross Shopping Centre and as they entered Mr Dowling got very close, prompting Mr Bourke to say: “Excuse me friend, can I help you?”

Describing what followed, Mr Bourke said: “He took the knife straight out and launched straight into it. He lashed a blow in to my shoulder and thereafter he rained down blows on my head.”

He said he was struck with “great force” and it felt like a hammer or a rock was hitting him.

Knife in head

He fell to the ground while his partner fought off the attacker with her bag, knocking the knife from his hand.

Following the attack, doctors were unable to remove parts of the knife from Mr Bourke’s head. They remain there as doctors feared that removing the metal would be more dangerous than leaving it where it is. He also suffered a broken finger.

Dr Brenda Wright, for the defence, and Dr Sally Linehan, for the prosecution, agreed that Mr Dowling had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia many years earlier and was suffering from delusions at the time of the attack.

Throughout his illness he had difficulty complying with his medical prescriptions and at the time of the assault had not taken medication for several months.

The doctors said he heard voices in his head and believed that Mr Bourke was a character named Tiny Harrington, who was responsible for the voices. He believed that by stabbing Mr Bourke he would get respite from the voices.

Dr Wright also confirmed that Mr Dowling was charged with harassment for sending threatening messages to his ex-partner.

Earlier this year, he was found not guilty of that charge by reason of insanity at Kilkenny Circuit Court.

Both doctors agreed that his condition qualified as a mental illness under the Criminal Law Insanity Act and that although he knew his actions were legally wrong, he did not know they were morally wrong. They also said that he was unable to refrain from acting as he did, due to his mental illness.

Counsel for the defence Colman Cody told the jury that based on the evidence given by both doctors, they should bring a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Denis Vaughan Buckley, for the prosecution, asked the jury to make their decision based only on the evidence they had heard and to use their common sense. Mr Justice Paul McDermott told the jury that there were three possible verdicts open to them: guilty, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity.

He explained that for the special verdict to be brought the defence must prove beyond the balance of probability that Mr Dowling was insane at the time of the assault and therefore did not know that his actions were morally wrong, or could not refrain from acting as he did.