Jury finds PR consultant died by suicide

Coroner says there is no evidence of third party involvement in Kate Fitzgerald’s death

A jury at Dublin Coroner's Court today found former public relations consultant Kate Fitzgerald died by suicide.

After three days of hearings, the jury unanimously agreed that Ms Fitzgerald died by hanging on August 23rd, 2011. The body of Ms Fitzgerald, who worked for the Communications Clinic, was found by her friends at her rented cottage at Harty Place, Dublin 8, after she failed to turn up for work.

The jury expressed sympathy to the Fitzgerald family for their loss and added that the 25 year old woman had “good and caring friends”.

The jury also recommended that, as a matter of course, gardaí should take photographs at the scene of any death.


Her father, Tom Fitzgerald, had previously expressed concern over aspects of the Garda investigation into her death and questioned whether a third party could have been involved.

He said a lack of photographic evidence and detailed analysis of the scene had left many questions unanswered over the circumstances of her death.

In advising the jury prior to their verdict, coroner Dr Brian Farrell pointed out that while questions had been posed over whether a third party could have been involved, no evidence had been presented to support this.

He said gardaí at the scene of her death found no evidence of anything suspicious, while medical evidence given by the State pathologist and another consultant concluded that Ms Fitzgerald’s post-mortem results were typical of a death by hanging.

"There is no objective evidence of third party involvement. But there is evidence that Katharine Fitzgerald had suicidal ideation and beliefs... she had mentioned hanging on more than one occasion," Dr Farrell said.

Friends of Ms Fitzgerald had earlier told the court she had suffered from depression over a number of years and had taken a number of overdoses in the months leading up to her death.

Dr Farrell said the evidence of the support she received over these months pointed to the fact that her friends were “very fond of her and did their best for her”.

“Her friends were very solicitous of her well-being and engaged with her and helped her on many occasions,” he said.

Earlier, a statement was read out to the court on Mr Fitzgerald’s behalf. It said that while he was aware his daughter had some issues, there was nothing which led him to believe she would have taken her own life.

“As far as I and my family were concerned, Kate had been in good form and in good spirits that summer,” Mr Fitzgerald said. “ She had been home in early June and had been a fantastic help with her mother’s concert and had been a bridesmaid at her friend’s wedding.”

He expressed dissatisfaction with the Garda investigation and said no images were taken at the time of the scene of death. As a result, many of the questions he and his family wanted answered could not be addressed.

Mr Fitzgerald was also critical of an error in his daughter’s autopsy report which, he said, compounded his family’s distress.

This was a reference to a post-mortem report by Dr Muna Sabah, a consultant at James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Dublin.

She told the inquest her original report had contained a typographical error in describing the cause of death as “asphyxia” as a result of “ligature strangulation”, a word used in medical pathology to describe hanging.

Dr Sabah, however, said the cause of death was most likely a cardiac arrest and changed the cause of death to “hanging”.

She accepted the word “ligature strangulation” could give rise to a misleading impression over the death,

A consultant psychiatrist told the court today that Ms Fitzgerald was admitted to St Patrick’s University Hospital just over a month before she died after taking prescription drugs and alcohol.

At the time of her admission, medical notes state that she was feeling depressed and had reported thoughts of suicide.

Dr Séamus Ó Ceallaigh, a consultant psychiatrist and clinical lead at the hospital, told Dublin Coroner’s Court today that she had told staff it was her third overdose in recent years.

Two days after her admission, Ms Fitzgerald was moved from a locked to an open ward, after reporting she no longer had thoughts of self-harm.

Clinical staff found her risk of suicide or self-harm had fallen from “high” to “medium” at this stage.

Several days after her admission, Ms Fitzgerald said she wished to leave the hospital, saying she was frustrated and was missing out on milestones in her friends’ lives, Dr Ó Ceallaigh said.

She left the service on the evening of July 22nd, against medical advice.

As she did not meet the legal threshold for involuntary detention at the hospital, staff were not in a position to detain her.

She continued to have contact with other psychiatric services. Dr Consilia Walsh, described how she was receiving treatment from the community mental health services in Dublin from June 2011 onwards.

She said Ms Fitzgerald was prescribed anti-depressants and required a more sophisticated form of psychological intervention.

“Kate was a very intelligent and wanted to know what was wrong with her,” Dr Walsh said.

After she died on August 23rd, 2011, Dr Walsh said staff were shocked at the news.

“Everyone who knew her was deeply shocked by her death because she made such a big impression on everyone she met,” she said. “She was such a lovely person.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent