Cases, Newspaper and internet articles, psychiatry

John Carthy; 13 years

John Carthy

It has just occurred to me that today is Holy Thursday. I spent the last few days reading about a young man who died on Holy Thursday. His name was John Carthy and he was 27 years old. Coincidentally, Holy Thursday was a significant day in John Carthy’s life as his father and grandfather also died on this day.

John Carthy was a young man who lived with his mother Rose at their home in Abbeylara, Co Longford. The Council had built a new house for the Carthy family nearby and they were awaiting a power connection before the move. John, who was diagnosed with depression (and medicated accordingly) since 1992, did not really want to move from the old house. According to his mother, on 19th April 2000 he became ‘somewhat agitated’. He went outside and discharged some shots from his legally held weapon. He re-entered the house and told his mother to ‘go to her sister up the road for a visit’. She left for her sisters house and fearing for her son’s welfare, rang the gardaí shortly afterwards. A two day siege followed, which ended with John being shot dead by members of An Garda Síochána (Irish Police) on Holy Thursday, 20th April 2000. What followed was an unprecedented public outcry for this affable young man and repercussions which still reverberate in Irish law today. It’s just a shame that John didn’t survive to witness it.

After John Carthy’s death, the Oireachtas appointed a Special Committee to conduct an inquiry (the Abbeylara inquiry) into the circumstances surrounding his fatal shooting. The gardaí whose actions were under investigation challenged the constitutionality of the Committee’s inquiry. In Maguire v Ardagh the Supreme Court found that the Oireachtas acted ultra vires (outside of its authority) when it set up the inquiry into the fatal shooting of John Carthy. Subsequently in 2011 the Irish people were asked to decide by referendum whether to give the houses of the Oireachtas (the Dáil and Seanad) express power to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance and, in doing so, to make findings of fact about any person’s conduct. The literature’s headline was ‘The Abbeylara Case’ and the people voted No. Details here.

In 2002 a tribunal was set up (The Barr Tribunal) to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding this young man’s death. The investigation was to last four years and cost the state over €18 million. The report laid most of the blame firmly at the door of the gardaí, finding critical errors and negligence by An gardaí Síochána during the 25-hour siege. The Barr Tribunal report here.

Considering the tribunal went on for so long, had numerous witnesses, at huge cost to the state, why was John Carthy’s medical treatment largely overlooked? From the age of 18/19 when he first entered college, a year after his father died, he attended his doctor and was medicated for depression, then bipolar. Understandable depression it has to be said, following these life changing events. Why was the adverse effects of these drugs not investigated? He was certainly prescribed enough of them and had seen enough medical professionals in his last few years. In the rush to blame the gardaí, was John’s death fully investigated? Was his ‘care’ by the medical professionals partly responsible? Sure he was fatally shot by gardaí but would he have been in this dangerous and volatile situation without the intervention of mind-altering drugs? His doctor described a manic episode some weeks before his death, despite having lithium levels above the therapeutic range, which is supposed to prevent bouts of mania.

According to the inquiry, John Carthy first became unwell at Christmas time 1991. The inquiry mentions that his father, a Bord na Mona employee also named John Carthy, died in 1990, the previous year. In early 1992 he attended his doctor and was medicated for depression. He was subsequently diagnosed (2005) with bipolar affective disorder. Over the years he was treated with medication which included Lithium, Gamanil, surmontil, prothiaden, Xanax, Stelazine and melleril.

Excerpt from the Barr Tribunal Report:

“John Carthy attended the local national school at Abbeylara. Thereafter, he went to technical/secondary school in Granard, County Longford. He completed his Leaving Certificate examination at Granard Convent in 1991. Having obtained his Leaving Certificate, he attended agricultural college at Warrenstown, County Meath in September, 1991. Mrs. Rose Carthy gave evidence that her son was in good health up to the time he went to Warrenstown. While there he began to have symptoms of depression.”


Timeline of drugs that John Carthy was prescribed:

Early 1992 Treated for depression. Prescribed gamanil and xanax

July 1992 John Carthy stopped his medication for almost a year, with no reprecussions.

June 1993 John, following an accident at work attended Dr Cullen who recommended an appointment with a psychiatrist. He was prescribed lentizol, an antidepressant.

July 1993 Presented in a tearful and ‘very distressed state’ complaining of back pain. Admitted to St. Loman’s hospital.

August 1993 Prescribed gamanil and melleril.

August 1993 Stopped his medication for four to five days, complained of feeling ‘withdrawn’. Described as being depressed, tearful and agitated and was re-admitted until 31 August.

September 1993 Melleril was discontinued and prescribed stelazine.

January 1995 Again re-admitted to St. Loman’s hospital with paranoid ideation.

February 1995 Discharged. His medication at this time was reported as stelazine, surmontil and cogentin.

April 1995 John Carthy was concerned about his lack of progress. Referred to another doctor who found he was not suffering from depression.

May 1995 Diagnosed with manic depression or bipolar affective disorder. Prescribed surmontil and stelazine.

Between May-July 1995 Prescribed Lithium.

June 1995 Stelazine and camcolit were prescribed.

May 1997 Following a car accident, Sleeping tablets were also prescribed.

November 1997 Stelazine was reduced. Prescribed stelazine and lithium.

November 1998 Lithium increased from 750mgs to 1,000mgs (and stelazine).

March 1999 Prescribed surmontil, an antidepressant.

April 1999 Medication changed to a ‘less sedating’ antidepressant, prothiaden

May 1999 Blood tests found lithium to be above the therapeutic range. His treatment was not changed.

September 1999 John’s mother Mrs. Rose Carthy collected his prescription for lithium, prothiaden and stelazine.

January, 2000 John’s mother Mrs. Rose Carthy again collected prescription for lithium, prothiaden and stelazine.

February 2000 John had ‘high’ episode. Was advised by doctor, over the phone, to increase his stelazine. Prothiaden stopped.

February 2000 Doctor had no recollection of giving advice over the phone but stated that ‘‘standard advice would be immediately cold turkey, stop your antidepressant’’.

February 2000 Doctor thought that John was elated, restless and agitated but it did not raise any concern in his mind as there was nothing out of the ordinary to alarm him. Stelazine increased.

March, 2000 Prescription for stelazine and camcolit, with the dosage of stelazine increased from one tablet a day to two tablets a day; earlier prescriptions had contained four items (stelazine and camcolit, melzine and prothiaden).

March 2000 Doctor describes ‘an episode of mania’. Categorised the condition as severe.

March 2000 Reduced the dosage of stelazine.

18th April 2000 John collected medication in respect of a prescription that had been written in January for lithium, stelazine and prothiaden.

20th April 2000 (Holy Thursday) John was fatally shot.

Barr Tribunal Report:



6 thoughts on “John Carthy; 13 years”

  1. In England, the following were shot dead by Police for posing a threat to the public while under the effect of antidepressants:
    Mark Saunders, aged 32 (Chelsea, 2008)
    David Sycamore, 39 (Guildford, 2008)
    Mervyn Tussler, 64 (West Sussex, 2009)
    Keith Richards , 47 (County Durham, 2009)


    1. Hi Brian,
      So tragic and needless. The Garda Síochána Inspectorate did a report following the Barr Tribunal…

      Look at page 23/24 and it says “the Inspectorate understands that in response to a survey of psychiatrists conducted for the US National Tactical Officers’ Association, only 7% of those surveyed felt they could accurately predict the behaviour of a mentally ill subject in the course of
      a barricade incident.” I feel your guidelines would have a much better success rate… I had put that in, along with this report but took it out as I was rambling a bit and not doing justice to John Carthy.

      In my opinion, I feel the doctors and the Gardaí failed him. The Gardaí’s actions cannot be overlooked in this case and this young man was treated appallingly. I’m reading his sister’s book at the moment and she was also treated very badly: lied about, pushed away from the scene (physically) and at one stage they even implied she was drunk… she was not.


      1. The Police were also blameless in the English cases. The verdict in each was “lawful killing”. In 2 of the cases, police officers were threatened with live guns, one had a replica gun and one had a crossbow. All were on antidepressants.
        The Mark Saunders case had a lot of press coverage. In the subsequent enquiry, a lot was made of his long-term drinking and cocaine habit, but very little was said about his more recent uptake of Prozac. A somewhat familiar story.
        As you say, blame the doctors, not the Police.


  2. Suicide by cop is a very common form of suicide here in NZ. It usually involves either provoking the police to shoot you or fleeing from the police in a car knowing the outcome will be death. We can’t know what the intent was in this young man’s mind but it is possible he knew his actions would result in his death. Was there an inquest or any suggestion it may have been suicide? Thinking of him and his mother this Easter.


    1. Yes Maria they did here… Conflicting opinions by the experts though!

      This case was unprecedented in Ireland. This happened in a tiny village where everyone knew each other and I don’t think John Carthy could foresee that he would be shot under any circumstances. He understandably didn’t trust the gardaí due to a previous incident where he was wrongly accused, and I think he was just asserting his authority in his own home. I don’t think he would have shot anyone… the situation just got out of hand. The gardaí were unprepared but I don’t think they deserved to take all the blame.


  3. Just came across your page Leonnie as I was listening to a recording myself and a few friends made around 2002. I remember the day very clearly standing in my kitchen looking out the window listening to the radio thinking how f#####g ridiculous the poor guy is inside listening to this….. anyway heres the song if you or anyone is interested. Small world!! Hi to Maria for me please I’m not on facebook much any more.


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