It was only a 20-minute drive from Jimmy Loughlin’s home to Sligo town but when he moved there in September 2017, his mother Paula pleaded with him every single day to “please come home, Jim”.
“He used to say to me ‘Mum, I am living in Sligo, not in Beirut’. Which is ironic really.
“I didn’t want him to leave home,” she says, laughing at the memory of how she used to “drive him mad” turning up to clean and decorate the terraced house on Connolly Street he shared with two close friends. She even chose the colour of “the bloody yellow door”, which was later smashed with a crowbar also used to kill her only son.
Paula used to worry that the door’s glass panels might make her son vulnerable as he had so much deejaying equipment which could tempt burglars.
As a mother that is the worst thing that haunts you, to think how scared he was in his last moments. And we weren't there to help him
What she and husband Michael didn't know was that their son's move into town coincided with a sharp deterioration in the mental health of Richard McLaughlin, who lived a few minutes away from the yellow door, a man who had already been involuntarily detained twice in the local psychiatric hospital in 2012 and 2015.
About a month before Jimmy Loughlin left the family's rural idyll near Ballintogher, where Paula keeps a donkey, a pony, four dogs and hens, McLaughlin had started making disturbing YouTube videos.
In the videos he referred to himself as Lucifer, threatened to kill, and brandished the crowbar he would use to beat Jimmy to death.
Between August 2017 and February 2018, two weeks before Jimmy was killed, he posted 1,400 YouTube files. "There was in excess of 2,000 hours. He was filming for up to 18 hours a day, during that five months, while drinking and smoking cannabis," said Michael Loughlin, the father of four. He had decided with Paula in 2002 to move from Harrow, in greater London, and raise their four children near his father's Co Sligo home place.
He is still stupefied by the fact that his son’s killer was asking publicly online “what is going to stop me from going out and killing?”, and demonstrating “this bad boy”, the crowbar he said he could use to kick someone’s door in.
“And that is what he did, literally, three months later.We are actually appalled he showed the murder weapon on YouTube.”
Paula says the volume of YouTube footage tells her “he was just completely ignored, never supervised. Was anyone going round there to the apartment to check on him?”
Reports that her son opened the door to McLaughlin on that fateful Saturday lunchtime, minutes after the 20-year-old returned from a local shop with a chicken curry meal and a bottle of water, are inaccurate, she says.
“He bashed the door down. Jim never stood a chance,” she says. “There was a back yard but no way of getting out of the yard. They had to bring the wheelie bins through the house. His instinct, if someone came in the front door, would be to get out the back but there was no way out. As a mother that is the worst thing that haunts you, to think how scared he was in his last moments. And we weren’t there to help him.”
Paula and Michael were close by, on their way into Sligo at 1.20pm on February 24th, 2018 planning to buy their son the last few bits and pieces he needed for a planned trip to Auschwitz with his girlfriend, Ellen, the following Wednesday. They were also going to drive him to McDonald’s restaurant on the outskirts of Sligo in time for his 4pm shift.
The gardaí were also close by, a stone’s throw away in the Garda station where at 1.18pm a call came in from a woman driving up Connolly Street who saw a man with what she thought might be a hurley stick, breaking into a house with a yellow door.
Immediately, a camera in the Garda communications room was diverted to Connolly Street, zooming in on a yellow door, just as a man emerged carrying a crowbar, before turning left and entering the nearby City Gate apartments. When officers knocked on his apartment door a short time later they were struck by the loud music, the fact that he had obviously just got out of the shower and that there was a crowbar leaning against the sittingroom wall.
Jimmy Loughlin was dead, killed as McLaughlin later told gardaí, because he believed the young man had his mother in the house and intended to rape her.
“Everyone knew what was going to happen eventually,” says Michael, who adds that when a person diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic makes threats, refuses to take his medication and fails to keep medical appointments, they cannot be left to their own devices.
During the five months when Jimmy lived in Connolly Street, not only was McLaughlin filming himself reading the Bible and saying things like “if you don’t apologise I’ll have your entire family killed, every single one of them , even the f***ing animals”, he was also fixating on two people he believed were going to kill his mother.
Focus Ireland project worker Rob Connor had helped McLaughlin secure the City Gate apartment when he was discharged from St Columba's psychiatric hospital in 2015. On October 23rd, 2017, however, Connor emailed the mental health services saying he believed the then 30 year old should be hospitalised, adding "I don't think he will come voluntarily".
Connor told the medics he believed Richard was "breaking down", that he had not been taking his medication "for some time" and not keeping appointments with his psychiatrist Dr Dimitrios Adamis. "My other concern is that he named the people he believed were going to kill his mother and I would be concerned for their safety," Connor wrote.
“If he had been hospitalised in October it would not have happened,” says Michael.
Dr Adamis did see McLaughlin on October 24th. He was accompanied by his mother and Connor. The doctor noted he had started to smoke cannabis in the last few months and had become “paranoid, suspicious and delusional”.
He was reviewed again by the doctor the following week. McLaughlin was feeling better and was calmer and indicated he had stopped taking alcohol and drugs.
At an appointment on November 22nd Dr Adamis noted improvements and when his patient complained about the side effects of his medication, he reduced the dosage.
Medical evidence presented at this week’s inquest into the death of Jimmy Loughlin shows that in 2015, after McLaughlin was detained involuntarily under the Mental Health Act, he received regular injections which were replaced by oral medication when he complained of side effects .
When he was discharged in 2012 after being “sectioned” when he threatened his mother with a machete, he had also received monthly muscular depot injections for over a year until he refused to take them and was prescribed oral medication instead. “I could not be sure if he was taking this medication,” a nurse who had administered the injections told the inquest.
The Loughlins point out that a few months before he attacked their son with a crowbar, Connor also believed he was not taking his prescribed drugs. An empty box dated November was found by the gardaí who arrested him in his apartment on February 24th.
“The only medication Richard McLaughlin was taking was cannabis,” Michael says. The couple say the dates on the YouTube videos, much of them filmed from the window of his apartment capturing the street scenes below, show “he was taking breaks from this to go into Markievicz House”, the HSE base in Sligo, where he had seven appointments between October and January.
“You would think with his history of not taking medication they would have said ‘we will send someone round every day, to watch you administer your medication’,” says Paula.
She believes that while filming out the apartment window, McLaughlin picked out her son walking down the street. McLaughlin told gardaí he had seen the former sales and marketing student getting himself a “ready meal”, which he interpreted as a sign he meant to spend the day raping McLaughlin’s mother.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr Paul O'Connell in 2012 described McLaughlin as a high risk for "stranger homicide" because of his persecutory delusions. He had recommended that McLaughlin be placed in 24-hour supervised accommodation, and the Loughlin family say local mental health services should implement all recommendations of professionals of that stature. Their solicitor, Damien Tansey SC who has lodged High Court civil proceedings against the HSE "which are at an advanced stage", accused the HSE of paying lip service to Dr O'Connell's report.
Jimmy's uncle, Dr Paul Loughlin, is a consultant psychiatrist based in Britain. He questions whether the mental health service in Sligo asked for help and advice from forensic services nationally "when it was clear the resources for the recommendations made by Dr O' Connell were not available locally".
Michael believes the lack of follow-up after Dr O’Connell issued his assessment meant “the patient was failed”, while the people of Sligo were living in danger as a result. “This ended in Jimmy’s tragic death.”
Local TD Marc MacSharry who attended the inquest agrees that the tragedy could have been avoided. “Jimmy Loughlin should be alive today. If our system was adequate, the red flags repeatedly highlighted in relation to the threat of violence, by the gardaí and other agencies would have been acted upon. They were not and so the Loughlin family are without their son and brother.”
John O’Keeffe criminologist and director of AdVIC, which supports those bereaved by homicide, also attended the inquest. He agrees there were many red flags, including from gardaí who believed McLaughlin was a threat to himself and others. “That Jimmy Loughlin’s death was a tragedy is not in dispute – that it was preventable may, however, be its most shocking legacy,” he said.
‘Full of friends’
“Jim was never in a fight in his life,” says his mother. “He was a very laid back personality, a bit of a joker. He wasn’t academic. He loved school but mainly for the social aspect. And all the teachers loved him. If I went to an open evening about the girls, they would end up talking about Jim, even when he had left, telling us funny stories about him.
“They said he could talk his way out of anything, he could be prime minister in the future. When he went to IT Sligo, that turned out to be just full-on party atmosphere. He lived at home. Our house was always full of his friends.”
On the day that Jimmy and his girlfriend, Ellen, were due to fly to Poland for their trip to Auschwitz, snow fell on Sooey cemetery in Sligo as he was laid to rest. Dublin airport was also shut due to the weather. "It was Jim – he was saying if we can't go, nobody can," says Paula, smiling.
They still have the packed suitcase, filled mostly with clothes she bought online. The couple plan some day to carry the case to Auschwitz in a pilgrimage in memory of their son.
The family spent their last Christmas together in New York and cherished memories of Jimmy clowning around with “Donald Trump” in Madame Tussaud’s and buying a baseball cap with the slogan “Blessed” in Times Square.
The last time Dr Adamis saw Richard McLaughlin on January 23rd, 2018, a month before he killed Jimmy, he told the psychiatrist he was taking his medication, not taking alcohol or drugs and not going out to avoid drinking. The psychiatrist noted that he had no disturbed thoughts and “no risk to himself or to others was identified”.
Paula says if her son was to walk in the door now “I would not be surprised”. She has a lifesize cardboard cutout of him wearing his “Blessed” baseball cap at the kitchen counter because he always sat there chatting to her. She can remember no rows with her son “although I did throw his clothes out the window once when he failed all his exams at IT Sligo”.
“Our coping mechanism is to know that Jim is all around us,” she says.
“And because Jimmy was so positive, he is helping us,” says Michael. “He was so good. And he didn’t do anything wrong. We know we couldn’t have done anything about it. It happened and people are responsible for it.”
In July 2019 a jury at the Central Criminal Court found McLaughlin, with an address at The Laurels, Woodtown Lodge, Sligo not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of Jimmy Loughlin.