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'People have a right to know' about murder suicides, says bereaved wife and mother

Una Butler, who lost her husband John and two daughters in such an incident in 2010, argues that it is better for the public to understand how often such cases happen.

UL Mental Health 001 Una Butler Source: True Media

A CORK MOTHER who lost her two young daughters and husband in a murder suicide has said that people and society “have a right to know” how often these tragedies are happening.

Una Butler’s husband John Butler, who had been receiving treatment for depression, took his own life after he killed his daughters Ella (2) and Zoe (6) in the family home, in Ballycotton, Co Cork, on 16 November 2010.

Speaking at a symposium on media coverage of mental health stories, organised by the Journalism Department at the University of Limerick, Una Butler called for accurate and sensitive reporting of murder suicide cases.

“I can understand that people just cannot comprehend or don’t want to read about it and that is why it is so important that when murder suicide cases are being reported on that it should be reported accurately and in a sensitive manner – no sensationalising, no glamourising of the events,” she explained.

“The media have been and are in a powerful position on how they report anything in general, but in particular with murder suicide accurate reporting is essential. People and society have a right to know how often these cases are happening,” she added.

Butler, who has advocated for reform of the Mental Health Act since the tragic deaths of her family, believes her children would “still be alive” had she been involved in her husband’s treatment.

Horrific

She said she “turned to the media” in seeking a detailed investigation into that treatment.

“I engaged with the media following the murder suicide of my husband John and daughters, Ella and Zoe in 2010. After their deaths I received a two-page report from the HSE which was inadequate and an insult,” she said.

I called for a detailed investigation into his treatment from the HSE and also wanted the Mental Health Act 2001 to be amended to include spouses or partners in the treatment of the family member suffering with their mental health to help prevent further cases from happening and also especially for the welfare of children.

Looking back on the horrific incident, she said: “I should have been involved. The medical professionals would have had greater insights into (John’s) behaviours.”

“It’s a known fact actually, that patients aren’t even asked if they want to involve a family member, because it’s not standard practice,” she added.

I believe Zoe and Ella would be alive today. My husband (had) never hurt me; He was suffering with a psychiatric illness. I believe had I been involved in his treatment… he may have been treated differently. I should have been educated about his illness and known what to do; I hadn’t been told.

“I hadn’t been told (about) the effects of his medication or how he would react after that.”

She added: “Why is a person treated in isolation? They’re not living in isolation, and the family are there to support them.”

“It’s an awful tragedy when a child dies through an illness, but when a child has been murdered by a parent it’s just unnatural,” she explained.

The bottom line is that whichever way you look at the previous cases of murder suicide in Ireland over the past twenty years or so, the mental health of the perpetrator is a major factor.

Illness

She added: “Going through the murder suicides that have happened in Ireland in the past 15-20 years, the statistics don’t lie; in over 60% of the cases the perpetrator had a psychiatric illness.”

Butler argued that while the media has an important role in reporting murder suicides, she said she believes reporting on funerals was “sensationalising a tragedy and glamourising who was at the funeral”.

That is my personal opinion; I don’t think (a funeral) is any place for the media to be.

She added, if families ask for privacy, then “it should be respected”.

“At the time of my (childrens’) funeral the media were asked to keep their distance, and in fairness to them they kept their distance, because we didn’t allow recording of the mass or anything like that, at the time,” she said.

Reiterating that the media has an important role to play, she added: “I do think that because I spoke out in the media an investigation did happen. I also think that it raised awareness of how often murder suicide is happening in Ireland.”

Ultimately, I went public and used the media because I thought and still believe that my family tragedy could have been prevented, had I been involved in my husband’s treatment, my children should be alive. That is the bottom line.

Last year, Butler found through her own research, that 27 cases of murder-suicides had occurred in Ireland since 2000, including the murders of 32 children, as well as 11 of partners or spouse.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

  • Aware 1800 804848 (depression, anxiety)

  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 666666 (for under 18s)

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David Raleigh

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