Barrister under threat of legal action died by suicide, inquest found

Colm O’Briain (48) had been admitted to St John of God’s hospital, Stillorgan

The jury at the inquest of Colm O’Briain recommended that consideration be given to removing personal items from patients that could be used to self-harm on admission to psychiatric hospital such as ties and belts. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The jury at the inquest of Colm O’Briain recommended that consideration be given to removing personal items from patients that could be used to self-harm on admission to psychiatric hospital such as ties and belts. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The jury at an inquest into the death of a barrister under threat of legal action arising from a perceived mistake at work has returned a verdict of suicide.

Colm O’Briain (48) a barrister from Sandymount, Dublin 4 became acutely stressed after losing a case around ten days before his death, on May 25th, 2016.

Dublin Coroner’s Court heard he “became a different person” after the incident relating to his work. He told doctors he was fearful of the outcome any legal action against him might have on his professional and financial situation and on his family.

Previously, the inquest heard that a “dark cloud” descended over Mr O’Briain and he lost weight rapidly in the days leading up to his death.

A third day of evidence at the inquest, resumed from May 30th, heard that on the day of his admission to St John of God’s hospital, Stillorgan, Mr O’Briain told his wife Bernadette Kirby he had written a note which he had left in their home. Ms Kirby relayed this information to a St John of God’s staff member but this did not alter his risk profile, the court heard.

Ms Kirby said she told a staff member about the note in a conversation outside her husband’s room on the evening of his admission on May 24th, 2016. In response, she was told staff would “keep a close eye” on him.

“When I left he was in the care of the hospital, he was to be looked after. He was to have a good night’s sleep, then therapy and I’d have my husband back,” she said.

“My sister-in-law and I had not left him alone that morning because I was frightened what would happen. I was told a close eye would be kept on him, that’s what I expected,” she said.

Shortly after midnight, Mr O’Briain was found in a collapsed state in his room at St John of God’s and an ambulance was called at 12.11am. He was rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead. In his post-mortem, pathologist Dr Niall Swan said the cause of death was due to hanging.

The jury returned a verdict of suicide and recommended that consideration be given to removing personal items from patients that could be used to self-harm on admission such as ties and belts. The jury further recommended that consideration be given to creating a standardised list of personal property including a list of clothing and accessories on admission.

A legal representative confirmed the family is taking civil action in relation to the case.

* If you are affected by any of the issues raised, you can contact Pieta House at 1800-247247, or Samaritans by phoning 116123 for free, texting 087-2609090 or emailing jo@samaritans.ie