A leading forensic psychiatrist has told the trial of a Co Londonderry man accused of murdering his former partner that at time of the killing he was suffering from a “major depressive disorder”.
Professor Tom Fahy said that as a result of Fred McClenaghan’s condition, it would have “substantially impared his mental responsibilities for these acts”.
McClenaghan (52) of Broad Street, Magherafelt, denies murdering Marion Millican in March 2011 at the Portstewart laundertte where she worked.
He has pleaded guilty to manslaughter claiming he shot her accidentally during a struggle while intending to kill himself in front of her.
That plea, made on the opening day of his was rejected by the prosecution who said it was “murder, pure and simple”.
Giving evidence for the defence on the eighteenth day of the trial, Professor Fahy told the jury that he examined McClenaghan on April 11 this year in Maghaberry prison over a four hour period to assess his mental health.
The defence expert witness said that during the sessions, he asked McClenaghan to recount the events of the day of the shooting incident.
“He told me that he got up that morning and went into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror and said he didn’t want to go on in that state and decided he was going to end it.
“He then stated that he collected the shotgun from a derelict farmhouse where he had concealed it. He said he then went to a friend’s house and collected a number of dust sheets and threw them into the car.”
McClenaghan told the professor that he had a written to a note to Mrs Millican outlining his feelings for her and his plans to take his own life.
Asked by defence QC John McCrudden what he thought about the note, Professor Fahty replied: “It suggested to me, on his part, a considerable amount of suicidal ideation and intention.”
The witnesss said that McClenaghan told him he then got into his Renault Clio car.
“He stated that he drove to Portstewart and during the journey he played the hymn ‘Abide With Me’. I asked him why that hymn and he replied: ‘It was give me peace of mind. To stop the thoughts’.”
The jury of six men and five women at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that McClenaghan told the professor that he went into the launderette with the shotgun where he was met by Mrs Millican and her work colleague Pamela Henry.
“He said to me that Marion invited me into the back to talk. He said the shotgun was discharged into the ground and Pamela Henry left.
“He said Marion had asked him about why he had not told her about the abuse.”
McClenaghan claimed that Mrs Millican grabbed both barrels of the shotgun and that a struggle started and he told her to let go. He said he pulled the weapon out of her hands and the gun went off.
“He said his response was ‘God, no’, and that he ran out into the street and rang his partner Gladys and she told him to throw the gun away.”
The professor said that he had examined all clinical and professional notes in McClenaghan’s case relating to his depression, his medication, his alleged childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a police officer, his binge drinking, his suicidal attempts and thoughts.
He stated: “In my opinion all the red flags were waving in the air at this time.”
Asked by Mr McCrudden how he would have treated McClenaghan, Professor Fahy replied that he would have him assessed by a clincial psychiatrist and probably had him hospitalised for further assessment.
“In my opinion that at the time he was suffering from a major depressive disorder which had been severe in its intensity. This would have caused sustantially impaired his mental responsibility for these actions.”
During cross exmaination by prosecution QC Richard Weir, Professor Fahy said McClenaghan had told him he had got the shotgun eight to nine months earlier for his own personal protection as he was under threat from paramilitaries.
The professor accepted that it was strange that McClelland had concealed the gun at a derelict farmhouse and had not kept it at home or on his person if he was under threat from paramilitaries.
Mr Weir put it to the witness that McClenaghan was not in a severe depressive disorder as he had told the professor during his prison assessment that he on the evening before the killing he had “spent the night with his partner Gladys, he had not been drinking and that he had splet well”.
He suggested to Professor Fahy that the reason McClenaghan was suffering from depression was that he had not been taking his medication in the days leading up to shooting.
Asked by Mr Weir why McClenaghan had not killed himself as planned, the witness said he told him that he had no cartridges left after both had been discharged in the launderette.
“But there were any number of ways he could have carried out his fixed planned to kill himself,” said Mr Weir. “He could have walked into the water at Portstewart Strand. He could have put a rubber hose in the exhaust pipe and fill the car with carbon monoxide.
“He could have taken his own life at the River Bann, which he passed on the way to Portstewart, which is a notorious place, but sadly, a place well known in North Antrim where people have taken their own lives. He could have driven his car into wall.”
“I can only tell you that is what he told me,” replied Professor Fahy.
Mr Weir said: “Did you ask him why he was going to use a shotgun to kill himself?£
Professor Fahy replied: “No,” adding that it was not uncommon for farmers to use shotguns in suicides.
However, the witness said he did find it “a little bit strange” why McClenaghan had stopped at a friend’s house to pick up dust sheets as he didn’t see how it fitted into his suicide other than to maybe wrap the gun in.
Mr Weir stated: “The fact is that he took the shotgun and killed his ex-partner and was basically saying if he couldn’t have her nobody else would. Isn’t that a reasonable scenario professor?”
The forensic psychiatrist replied: “It is a reasonable scenario.”
Added Mr Weir: “And if you like, you could say that he was being a little bit cute having the suicide note in his pocket.”
The trial, which continues, is at hearing.