On this day in 2011, Kate Fitzgerald was found dead at her Dublin home having apparently taken her own life. She was 25.
Kate was a Broadsheet commenter and an unusually sincere one. Amid thousands of made-up identities and goofy avatars, she used her own name and headshot (pic above).
America-born, Kate was chairperson of the US Democratic Party Committee in Ireland and a public relations executive who had shown great promise as a serious journalist.
But, as the controversy following her death would demonstrate, Kate was only ever an outsider and her reputation expendable. Against the public image of those that mattered, she simply didn’t matter.
Overleaf, observing our strict ‘no commenter left behind’ policy and with access for the first time to correspondence, emails, texts and phone records, we have sought to find out what happened between Kate Fitzgerald and her high-profile employer, the reasons the Irish Times edited her final words and why she matters now.
Ahead of a talk on Friday morning for Image magazine on workplace relations, Terry Prone shared with the title what she “looks for in a work colleague and how to appropriately confront and overcome issues in the workplace”.
As the reporter notes, Ms Prone’s answers are “clear and concise and jam-packed with pearls of wisdom”. To wit:
How do you recommend people make a stand about issues they are unhappy with at work?
“Be unsurprised, sometimes shit happens. Talk to an outside expert, they’ll be able to give you an open, honest answer and a fresh perspective. And never, ever, ever talk to a lawyer.”
What are your top tips for managing internal politics in an office environment?
“It’s very simple: Don’t get involved. Get along with everybody. And if that doesn’t work, then that workplace is not the one for you, it’s time to get out.”
What makes a good colleague?
“Diligence, discretion and a sense of humour. First, work out your objective, you need to figure out exactly how you want the issue to proceed. Don’t ever start with the desire to get something off your chest. Road to no-town. Once you have a clear head, examine who needs to be influenced, work out how best to influence them.”
What makes a good boss?
“Diligence, discretion, a sense of humour, the capacity to take the helicopter view and the ability to damp down your emotional neediness.“
The company that fared best from the special secretarial allowance was the Communications Clinic, a well-known PR firm run by Today FM radio host Anton Savage, his mother Terry Prone, and her husband Tom Savage (a former chairman of RTÉ). In total, the company was paid €211,826 by a variety of government Ministers including Children’s Minister James Reilly, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, and the now-EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.
Ms Fitzgerald for instance has paid the firm a sum of between €1,815 and €1,845 per-month during her time both at the Department of Justice, and before that, at the Dept of Children. Dr James Reilly pays a monthly fee of 1,845, while the monthly fee for Phil Hogan – when he was Minister for the Environment – was €2,214. The government chief whip Paul Kehoe also paid a once-off fee of €18,500 to the Communications Clinic in 2012 for public relations.
The latest edition of The Phoenix magazine, in shops now
The Phoenix magazine today asserts that Sally and Tom Fitzgerald – after having been told by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald that the Justice Department will review the Garda investigation into their daughter Kate’s death – are unlikely to “open a second front in their pursuit of the facts about the death”.
The ‘second front’ the magazine is referring to is how The Irish Times issued an apology to Kate’s employer, The Communications Clinic, after it published an article identifying Kate as the author of a previous anonymous article in which, among other things, Kate wrote about how she suffered from depression and detailed how she was treated at her workplace.
Along with the apology, The Irish Times stated Kate’s original article contained “significant assertions which were not factual”.
Later, the Irish Times blacked out the article in its entirety on the newspaper’s online archive.
To this day, Kate’s parents do not know what ‘assertions were not factual’.
Kate Fitzgerald, who was found dead on August 23, 2011
Today’s Irish Examiner reports:
“The Department of Justice is to re-examine the Garda investigation into the 2011 death of PR executive Kate Fitzgerald, after repeated claims from her family the original case was flawed.
In a coroner’s case last year, the death of the 25-year-old PR executive and former chair of the US Democratic Party Abroad in Ireland was ruled a suicide.
However, after subsequent questions from her family, it emerged a number of standard procedures used to rule out other potential causes of death were not followed.
These include a failure to take photographs of the scene before clothing and other belongings were removed; no examination of the cupboard in which Ms Fitzgerald is said to have killed herself; and the absence of a ligature allegedly used during her death.
Ms Fitzgerald’s family were also provided with an “unsolicited” copy of the initial coroner’s report into her death, which noted a bone in her neck that would normally be left untouched in a hanging but is often broken in a manual strangulation case, was fractured.
A Garda Ombudsman review of the case was concluded last year. However, while accepting there were flaws in how the death was examined, the review said it is unclear what impact if any this had on the case as “potential evidence” was not “properly maintained” and is now “irretrievably” lost.
This (below) is something I wrote this morning [Today is World Suicide Prevention Day]. I’d quite like your help in getting the message out – I know it would have helped me.
Turns out it’s quite easy to say “I’m not coping, I need some help”. I should qualify that by saying it’s quite easy when the alternative is saying “I tried to kill myself”.
About two weeks ago I took an overdose. I was rushed to A&E by my housemate and she called my best friend. The whole thing is quite blurry – but one thing I will never forget is the first of a series of drips I was put on which had me on all fours on the hospital floor being violently sick, and scratching my scalp with such intensity that I drew blood. Looks like I have not done any permanent liver damage, which is good because, as the psychiatrist explained, they tend to not put people who try to kill themselves on the transplant list.
How I got to the point that I thought two boxes of paracetamol was my only option is something I don’t understand yet, it’s something I may never understand but I’ve got to try. I’m in my late twenties, have a good job and an excellent group of friends. In other words I have everything to live for, never have I understood this as much as talking to a man in his early forties on the ward beside me. I was still pretty groggy but I clearly remember feeling overwhelmingly guilty as I listened to how much a struggle he is having on Chemotherapy. Literally fighting for his life. The gentlemen on the ward were polite enough not to ask any questions. It was pretty clear to everyone when the psychiatrist introduced herself why I was there.
I’ve only told one other person, my other best friend. Trust me on this, saying “I need some help” before taking the overdose would have been much earlier than having to watch the concern and confusion on his face as I told him what I had done the previous week.
One thing that has come out of all this is I am getting help. I’ve seeing a therapist twice a week. I’ll talk more about that later. But I also now have three friends who I can’t fool anymore, no more pretending to be on top of everything. No more trying to be superman. Three people who are going to check in with me and given what they know that I have a responsibility to be honest with. In my defence I had tried to find a therapist a couple of times before but never really followed it through. I’m now seeing someone working in the My Mind centre I’ve a feeling I’m going to be seeing her for quite a while. But I already feel like there have been baby steps of progress.
I’ll be writing about my “journey” (I feel quiet American now I have a therapist) on my blog (see below) over the coming weeks and months. I’d quite like to keep my identity to myself so I may not be also to share all of the gory details but I’ll try to be as honest as I can.
Further to the the Kate Fitzgerald inquest last week which recorded a verdict of death by suicide.
Kate’s parents, Tom and Sally Fitzgerald write:
It is our view that the suicide verdict of June 6 at the Coroner’s court was tragically wrong.
After more than 21 months of waiting we failed to get a hearing at the inquest, and we failed to get closure. We want to put some of the details our case into the public domain so that this does not happen to other families.
There were five main problems with the inquest
1. Too much Garda intervention turned an inquest into a trial
2. The Family was not allowed to give input.
3. There was virtually no investigation at the scene of death.
4. The pathologists were allowed to change the manner and cause of death on the stand 21 months after the death
5. Hyoid bone evidence was underplayed by both Cassidy and the coroner
6. The jury was unduly influenced by the views expressed by the Coroner
A Wall of Blue
Anything but a suicide verdict would have been shocking given the amount of state funds that were committed to getting a suicide verdict for Kate Fitzgerald. There were 3 uniformed Gardaí shepherded by their uniformed sergeant for the duration of the inquest. There was Detective Superintendent Gabriel O’Gara, Detective Sergeant John Doyle, Detective Mark Looby, and another unknown detective. There were also two people from the Garda Ombudsman’s office in the audience.
Inaudible The Gardai were represented by a barrister with either one or two solicitors (depending on the day). The Garda barrister spoke in a low voice away from the microphone such that she could not be heard by the audience or the family. Mr Fitzgerald asked the registrar repeatedly on all three days of the inquest for the barrister to speak up so the family could hear her. She made no effort to do so. This made it extremely difficult to know what exactly she was trying to do with the evidence.
What ligature? Evidence given at the inquest showed that of the five people on duty at the scene, only one could say with any certainty that he saw a ligature there. Two firemen/paramedics first to the scene around 1:30 or so could recall no ligature there. A third paramedic who arrived at 1:38 PM said he say ligature marks, but no ligature. The main investigating Garda could not recall a ligature at the scene, though he did recall seeing it around Kate’s neck at the morgue and found it “odd” that it was there. Dr Fakih who pronounced Kate dead at 2:50 PM could not recall seeing a ligature. Only the accompanying Garda, Patrick O’Neill seemed certain a ligature was there at the scene. Meanwhile, the ligature itself, whatever it was, had disappeared entirely, probably destroyed at the morgue. Even if the ligature had been there, because the body had been moved, only Brendan Bruen would have seen for sure how it was placed around the neck.
Inquest or trial? Despite the fact that this was supposed to be an inquest, the Garda barrister had free rein to interrupt (which she did repeatedly) and to question every single witness whether or not the evidence concerned the Gardaí. The Garda barrister was the state prosecutor and Kate Fitzgerald was the defendant. Unfortunately, this was a post-mortem trial,so Kate could not speak for herself. In spite of the trial structure, no one could be called as a defence witness for Kate. Even the jury, who showed great interest in the trial were given extremely tight instructions that virtually precluded from returning anything but a suicide verdict. “You will have to explain why you did not bring a suicide verdict” they were told by the coroner. Naturally, they only left the room for a matter of minutes.
Silenced Despite having submitted a statement to the coroner on 26 February, and making repeated requests for an answer, the coroner’s office refused to give an indication on whether Kate’s father could testify at his own daughter’s inquest. Finally, in desperation, the family solicitor wrote a watered down statement to get him on the stand. The coroner and the Garda barrister even cut 30% out of this carefully worded statement and he was only allowed on the stand on VERY strict instructions that he could only answer questions and otherwise was not allowed to speak. Protocol forbad the family barrister from asking a question. It was NOT in the interest of the Gardaí to have him speak and the coroner did not ask any questions, nor did the jury. That watered down statement was all the family was allowed to present on behalf of Kate. Kate’s mother had a short speech prepared, but that too was forbidden by the coroner. A close friend of Kate’s desperately wanted to speak on Kate’s behalf but was discouraged from doing so for fear of being harassed on the stand by the Garda barrister. No one was allowed to speak for Kate at this inquest. The family wanted to read a letter from Ernst and Young manager John Ward, who spoke effusively of Kate’s interview for a Senior PR position only four days before she died. We were not able to find a way to do that.
Investigation of the scene of death With regard to searching the scene of the crime, Garda Dave Healy, the lead Garda investigator, stated very clearly as follows in his statement “I didn’t ask Claire or Brendan (the people who found the body) to point out where the body of Kate Fitzgerald was found hanging. I spoke to them very briefly and I did not bring them back into the house. They just said that they had found her hanging from a frame behind the bedroom door. I didn’t examine that area. I can’t remember what was behind the door. I didn’t search the bedroom” and later he says:“The scene was not technically examined. I gave the bedroom a cursory search. I gave the living room a cursory search also.” On the stand Garda Healy stated that he did not take photographs of the scene as he was not aware of any Garda procedure to do so.He stated he had never been to a death scene before and that he only recalled some of the information he had learned in Templemore about what the procedure was. He said he did not consult with any senior Garda or detective about what to do at the scene. He did not consider any option besides suicide.
Controlling access to the scene Under questioning Garda Healy said he had no knowledge of Kate Fitzgerald’s keys The keys that he used and took back to the station, was the spare key held by Derek Lande and used to access the house that day. He did not see Kate’s keys in the house and he did not look for them. He conducted a visual inspection of the windows. He did not mention that the back window in the kitchen was not lockable. This was known to the family since Kate moved in. She sometimes used it to get in if she forgot her keys. Two days later, and before any result from the autopsy, the Gardaí gave the keys to the house to Kate’s friends and they cleared everything out. There was no protection and no preservation of the scene.
Testimony Brendan Bruen’s description of the way Kate was hanging in his first statement is as follows: “Kate was hanging from the top shelf of the boiler press behind the door. She was barely off the ground so her neck was very tightly up against the shelf.“ In his second statement, taken in June 2012, his description is very consistent and slightly more detailed: “The shelf is latted and she had a belt, brown (light) fabric material knotted to the shelf and around her neck. I opened the knot on the lats and took her down. The knot on the shelf was a very short distance from the part of the belt around her neck.”
Under questioning, he said it was 6-9 inches between her neck and the shelf. From this description there did not appear to be enough ligature length to put the belt around her own neck, while it would have been easy enough for someone else to do it.
In Clare Hayes Brady’s testimony she said:
“I honestly believe and recall that when I saw Kate her feet were in front of her and it seemed her heels were on the floor.”
This description sounds more consistent with someone being dragged to the place of hanging than self-hanging. Combined with the “very short” belt, it does raise serious questions which now cannot be answered. None of this was discussed at the inquest.
Pathologists’ reports Pathologist Dr Sabah was asked to read her statement under oath. We all had copies and could read along with her. However when she got to the cause of death, she substituted the word “hanging” instead of “ligature strangulation”.
She called it a typographical error, when in fact there are distinct definitions. According to a chief medical examiner, “Strangulation should not be used as a synonym for hanging. Strangulation is defined as asphyxia by closure of the blood vessels and/ or air passages of the neck as a result of external pressure on the neck.”
Even now, we are not sure how Kate died. For 21 months, the autopsy report has stated that she died of asphyxia due to Ligature strangulation, but since it was brought out that there were no petechia mentioned in the autopsy report. Dr. Cassidy simply changed the verdict to death by coronary right there on the stand. The fact that this changes just about everything about the investigation seemed to matter not a bit to the coroner.
We were going to get suicide no matter what. The coroner kindly noted that this must be easier for the family since it claims she died instantly. No effort was made to see if everything else fit in with an instant death by coronary. For example, if she died instantly, why was the brain 30% heavier than normal? There was a brief probe from the family barrister about the fact that instant death means she would not have marks from a struggle from an assailant, but that was largely ignored. In November 2001, Marie Cassidy gave a speech at Athlone IT on ten ways to commit the perfect murder. By her definition, Kate’s death was the perfect murder. She said that it is possible to strangle someone and then hang them up to make it look like suicide. But she added: “You have to be careful, you can’t leave any marks.”
Hyoid bone A small bone under the tongue well above the larynx was broken. This bone can only be broken by a sharply focused pressure that pushes in at the top of the throat. Our family research shows that it happens in less than 3% of suicidal hangings. It happens even less in victims under 40. Kate died at age 25. It happens less with a soft ligature. Kate’s was a soft ligature. It happens less with a wide ligature. Kate’s was a wide ligature. It happens less with a short drop. Kate’s drop was a matter of inches. It happens less when the ligature mark is at or below the laryngeal prominence. Kate’s ligature mark was on the larynx. Dr. Cassidy quoted one study based on only 160 cases in Ireland and made no reference to this complicated set of issues. A Di Maio and Di Maio study quoted by Dr Cassidy in her statement had 83 hangings and not a single broken hyoid bone. But she didn’t mention that part of the study. There are numerous other studies showing how rare hyoid bone fractures are in suicidal hanging. In one 257 hangings, no fracture. In another 500 hangings, no fracture.
It happens much more often in manual strangulation. Dr Fakih, the doctor who pronounced Kate dead, noted an indentation at the right side of Kate’s neck, in the area of the hyoid bone. Dr Fakih thought it could be from the buckle or knot, but acknowledged it could also be from a thumb. Brendan Bruen, who was the only person to fully see the hanging and take her down, testified that the buckle or knot was at the back of her neck and she was facing away from the shelving from which she hung.
In summary, this inquest has raised more questions than it answered. There was no proper investigation of the scene. The testimony was not balanced. Kate Fitzgerald did not get justice and her family will continue to fight. We do not want this to happen to any other family.