‘The real Shane Clancy was not a killer’

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Leonie Fennell is continuing her fight to show how prescription drugs drove her son to kill

By Dave Kenny
Sunday June 03 2012

Three years ago, a young Trinity student drove to Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt and bought a block of knives. It was nearly five in the morning, but no questions were asked. Shane Clancy, 22, was sober and respectable-looking. Not the usual knife-carrying type. He may have been a chef on his way to or from work.

Shane then drove to the quiet residential area of Cuala Grove in Bray where he unleashed an attack of psychotic proportions on his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. Sebastian Creane, also 22 and a talented and popular young student, died from a knife-wound to the heart. His brother Dylan was stabbed nine times when he came to his aid. Jennifer Hannigan, the young woman at the centre of the fatal ‘love triangle’, was stabbed in the back but managed to escape and raise the alarm.

The following afternoon, August 16, 2009, Shane Clancy’s body was found in the back garden at Cuala Grove. He had stabbed himself 19 times.

Saturday night knifings are not rare in Ireland any more. What made this murder-suicide particularly shocking were the subsequent descriptions of Shane Clancy as a gregarious teetotaller whose life revolved around family, study and charity.

He had no history of mental illness or violence and was a model student, entering his final year of Irish and theological studies. He lived in a flat in Dalkey, with a support network of cousins nearby.

He regularly saw his father Patrick, who lives in Dun Laoghaire, and his mother Leonie, who lives in Redcross, Co Wicklow, with her second husband Tony and their three children.

What made this sweet-natured young man’s personality change so dramatically in a matter of weeks?

“That was not Shane,” his mother Leonie Fennell says with conviction. “The real Shane could never have done such a terrible thing. He wouldn’t have hurt a fly. Something changed in him in the weeks leading up to that night.

“Shane was the nicest, kindest, funniest guy. He was adored by everyone. He had a huge passion for the underdog, especially the homeless. We regularly had Christmas dinner late because we had to wait for Shane to finish up handing out dinners to the needy in Stradbrook rugby club,” she explains.

“On his 21st birthday, he asked guests to put donations in the Vincent de Paul box instead of giving him presents. That was the real Shane. His Irish lecturers in Trinity called him ‘an chroi mor’. Shane couldn’t have done what he did if he was in his right mind.”

Shane was the eldest of Leonie’s six children: Liam, now 24, Jake, now 21, Jack, now 14, Henry, now 8, and Lucy, now 4.

“He really loved his brothers and sister. Henry, our then five year old, was the apple of his eye. He was the centre of Henry’s world. Shane adored children.”

The inquest into Shane’s death returned an open verdict. The jury rejected an option of death by suicide but found that he died from self-inflicted injuries. It wasn’t satisfied that he had intended to take his own life. Shane had toxic levels of the SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) anti-depressant, citalopram, in his system.

Leonie believes that the drug was the reason for her son’s personality change in the lead-up to the events of August 16, 2009.

She is not alone.

The former assistant State pathologist who carried out Shane’s post-mortem expressed his concern about the link between anti-depressants and suicide at his inquest. Dr Declan Gilsenan said he had seen “too many suicides” after people had started taking the drugs. He questioned whether GPs were over-prescribing them.

Another expert, Professor David Healy, maintains that the pharmaceutical industry is being protected by psychiatry who “state in public that not only did the drugs not cause a problem, but that they cannot cause a problem”. Healy said that in a small, but significant, minority of patients, using anti-depressants can give rise to suicidal and violent behaviour.

Leonie took Dr Gilesenan and Prof Healy with her to meet Kathleen Lynch — the minister with responsibility for mental health — last week, to warn her about the side effects of SSRIs.

“Since that meeting, the Government is accountable the next time there’s a shooting or some young person goes and does something suicidal or violent while on these drugs. It’s been brought up in the Dail, the Seanad and in Leinster House. Nobody can say they weren’t warned,” she says.

Leonie’s campaign has drawn strong support from the US and Canada where there are numerous documented cases of the adverse effects of SSRIs. Her work has also led her into confrontations with members of the psychiatric profession here. She is telling her story in the Sunday Independent today to highlight her fight against big pharma and the drug Shane was prescribed prior to August 16, 2009.

It’s important to point out that Leonie will not talk about the Creanes or Jennifer Hannigan. She is anxious not to cause them further pain. This is her story. She is compelled to talk about Shane so that other families don’t suffer the same fate as theirs. Neither the Creanes nor Jennifer were asked to contribute to this article. They have a sympathetic forum here, should they ever wish to avail of it.

Shane’s spiral into depression began in spring 2009. He and Jennifer had been going out with each other for three years. In March, he decided to end the relationship — a decision he later regretted. He became increasingly depressed, telling Leonie — and anyone who would listen — about his broken heart.

Jennifer told his inquest that when she started dating Sebastian Creane, Shane began to change “in the way he walked, talked, everything”. As the weeks went on, Shane’s depression deepened.

He cancelled a trip to Calcutta with the charity, Suas, and was left with the whole summer free. At his family’s suggestion, he booked a recuperative trip to visit his cousin in Thailand, en route to Australia and the US. Initially, Shane’s mood seemed to be improving and his family believed his depression was lifting. It wasn’t.

He flew on to Australia and the US, but came home early. Leonie took him to a doctor on July 18. He was told to exercise and eat properly for a week to see if that made him feel any better. A week later, she took him back to the clinic, and on July 27, he was prescribed a month’s supply of the anti-depressant, citalopram 20mg.

“He took them as prescribed but after the first few days began to get agitated. On July 31 he said his tongue felt very swollen, which is a side effect of citalopram. He also said he thought he had the ‘flu. This is consistent with the effects of the drug,” says Leonie.

On August 5, Shane took the remainder of his month’s

supply of tablets in a suicide attempt. He slept for 24 hours.

“When he told me what he had done, I asked him: ‘but who’s going to take care of Henry? Who’s going to take him out if you’re gone?'”

Leonie took her son to another GP who was told that Shane had taken a high dosage of citalopram two days previously. The GP prescribed a three-week course of the drug at a lower dosage. That was one week before the events at Cuala Grove.

The night of August 15 began with a visit with friends to the Eagle House pub in Glasthule, where Shane and Seb ended up in company together.

“Shane hadn’t wanted to go out, but his friends insisted,” says Leonie. “They thought it would cheer him up.”

The group later went to the Vico Club over the Queen’s bar in Dalkey. Two friends of Seb Creane said Shane was “extremely quiet”, but later he offered to take them home. Shane dropped his other passengers off and drove Seb to his house. He was subsequently asked to leave when he asked for a knife or a scissors to fix his shoe.

He then went to Dunnes Stores and bought a block of kitchen knives. He returned to the house, where he stabbed Seb, Jennifer and Dylan before taking his own life.

Leonie’s recollection of the morning she received the news is fractured and surreal.

“Someone, I think it was Shane’s dad, phoned me about 10am to ask if I knew where he was. Then two guards came to the door asking to see Shane. I said he was probably in Dalkey. They said there had been an incident in Bray and somebody was dead. Shane was involved.

“I just presumed that they had got it wrong. Shane could never hurt anybody. If he had, then he would be dead by now, I said. He would have walked into the sea.

“About 1pm, one of guards went outside and I saw Tony coming in. I just knew by looking at his face. He didn’t have to say anything. This noise came out of me. I don’t know where it came from. I’d never heard it before or since.”

The funeral in Dalkey was an, understandably, low-key affair. Shane’s friends and family said their farewells, while trying not to be disrespectful to the living.

“My brother wanted to do a reading which said ‘you’re an inspiration to us’. Someone said: ‘you can’t say that’. It’s always in the back of your head that there are other people involved. It had to be toned down. We couldn’t do what we wanted to do.

“I would be a million times more vocal about the side-effects of SSRIs if there weren’t other people involved.”

Leonie is treading on eggshells. After Seb Creane’s inquest, his family said they took issue with evidence which they claimed “ascribed fault to prescribed medication” Shane had been taking. This medication is at the heart of Leonie’s campaign.

Her appearance on the Late Late Show in October 2009 — and claims by psychiatrist Dr Michael Corry that the side-effects of anti-depressants can “tip somebody into suicidal and homicidal behaviour” — drew a storm of criticism from the psychiatric community. It was counter-claimed by the Irish College of Psychiatry that there was “no evidence” to link SSRIs with violence. It said that Dr Corry’s comments may have stigmatised people using anti-depressants to successfully combat their condition. Leonie is resolute.

“These SSRIs can cause severe reactions in some people, leading to suicidal or homicidal impulses,” says Leonie. “It’s well documented in the States where they carry ‘black box’ warnings. That’s the sternest type that a medication can carry. It appears on the label of a prescription medication to alert you to any important safety concerns. In Ireland, anti-depressants are being handed out like Smarties without the same kind of ‘black box’ warnings.

“When it comes to cocaine, crystal meth, or LSD, we have no difficulty thinking a drug might contribute — the drug is guilty and the person innocent. But in the case of prescription drugs, the drug is always innocent and the person guilty.”

Leonie has taken up studying law “because I think it’s the best way of discovering how big pharma is, literally, getting away with murder”.

Throughout the interview, there is the over-riding feeling that Leonie is very good at putting on a brave face.

The veneer cracks occasionally and the strain of what she is going through becomes apparent. She is trying to make sense of Shane’s actions, while mixing sympathy for his victims and grief for the son she has lost.

“How could Shane do that to someone else’s family? How could he stab himself 19 times?”

There have been occasions when she has felt close to collapsing.

“Friends of ours are farmers and there are some days when I would like to ask: ‘Is it okay if I go up to that field where nobody can hear me and scream?'”

Leonie still feels Shane’s presence. “A few days after he died, I was lying on the bed with Tony in front of me and Henry behind me, spooning. I was half awake and it was like Shane had his two arms around me. It was so weird and I didn’t want to wake up although I knew it wasn’t him. It was so real.”

After Shane’s death, she gave most of his belongings to his friends and Oxfam.

“I still have a lot of Shane’s things, like his T-Shirt,” she says. “The one he took off the night before he went out. I hold it and smell it all the time. It’s probably filthy now … stained with my tears.”

Leonie sounds apologetic, embarrassed by the admission. She pauses and looks briefly at her handbag. That glance reveals something unexpected. Something incomprehensibly sad.

“I know it’s stupid,” she says, “but I carry that T-shirt with me everywhere I go.”

http://leoniefennell.wordpress.com

– Dave Kenny

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Owner of iconic Dalkey bookshop recalls 36 years among the covers

‘I once discounted a book for Colin Farrell. He looked like he was on his uppers,’ says Bono’s bookseller

Irish Daily Mail, 17 April 2012

By Dave Kenny

He’s sold books to Bono and Maeve Binchy, and been mentioned in despatches from the Middle East. Declining book sales, however, have forced Michael Simonds to turn the final page on Dalkey’s iconic Exchange Bookshop.

“This is not a decision I’m taking on a whim. I’ve been here since 1975 and would have liked to have carried on. The books trade is in a state of flux. Sales are down 30pc on two years ago and more people are buying online. I don’t blame them. I think people want to support their local bookshop, but sometimes it’s just not convenient,” he says, with trademark charity.

Despite the popularity of Kindle and iPad, he still believes in the “technology” of books.

“One of my customers showed me a 14th century book he owns. That technology has stood the test of time. Even a stone house will eventually fall down. Where does that leave emails in the future? People were trading books hundreds of years ago. My misfortune was to be born at the end of 500 years of publishing.”

With the closure of the Exchange, the Dalkey Book Festival will find itself without a bookshop this year. In June, thousands of tourists will flock to the village to spot their favourite authors. Maeve Binchy, Neil Jordan, Declan Hughes, Martina Devlin, Brian Keenan, Joe O’Connor, Don Conroy and Sarah Webb, all live within walking distance of the shop. As one local sardonically points out, “you can’t throw a stick down the main street without hitting a writer. And there are plenty of writers we’d like to hit with sticks around here…”

Michael is concerned that his departure will leave a literary void. “The library is closing for three months too. The village won’t have an obvious book outlet for the festival. It will be a bit odd.”

Closed book: Michael Simonds locks up his world-renowned bookshop

His shop – which has featured in several books, including BBC journalist John Simpson’s autobiography – has served some literary giants over the years. Curmudgeonly playwright, Hugh Leonard, was a regular.

“He exchanged books here right up to his death. He was great, but could be quite brusque sometimes. Once, I didn’t get him a book he wanted and he wrote about me in his column. I thought it was like cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer.”

On another occasion, the widow of a legendary politician gave him a tongue-lashing over his accent. Michael comes from a privileged, Anglo-Irish background and professes to be “West Brit, but Irish”. Referring to the War of Independence, the lady told Michael that “we should have shot the lot of you”.

The vast majority of celebrity customers have been pleasant, however. “Bono has come in a few times, but I wouldn’t necessarily recognise him. I’m very short-sighted,” he explains.

“One day a young man came in and bought a book about a French actor. He was scruffy and very Bohemian-looking. I thought he was a poet on his uppers, so I gave him a discount. Someone later told me he was Colin Farrell.”

Once, Michael witnessed a world-famous customer being ‘collared’ by the law. The actor had parked his BMW outside the shop.

“Minutes later the door opened and a guard asked whose car was on the double yellow lines. Pierce Brosnan popped up and said ‘it’s mine’. The guard made him move it. Fair play to him, he didn’t care that he was James Bond.”

Celebrities and locals alike are saddened by the passing of the Exchange. “People around are lovely, they’ve been so kind,” says Michael, pointing to a row of wine bottles behind the counter.

“We’re losing an institution. Dublin lost Green’s and Dalkey is now losing Michael,” said Liz, a local lady stocking up on last-minute bargains. Her fellow resident, Ryan Tubridy agrees, and believes the picturesque village is losing its “nerdy hub”.

“Losing a bookshop from a village like Dalkey is like having the brain removed. It needs a nerdy hub like the Exchange. It’s one thing ordering a book on Amazon, but Michael spoke to customers about authors, titles and the village itself. I hope some local has the sense to invest in the bookshop.”

Author, Brian Keenan, says he is “stunned” at the closure of his favourite shop. “The Exchange is one of the reasons I come down to the village. I can’t believe it’s closing. My abiding memory of the place is the day, years ago, when I went in to use the photocopier. I looked up and there was the journalist, Robert Fisk, asking Michael for directions.”

They hadn’t seen each other since Beirut, where Fisk had spent years writing about Keenan’s captivity in Lebanon.

“I said ‘what are you doing here?’” said Keenan, “and he said ‘What are YOU doing here?’ We both laughed.”

Fisk uses the shop as a post office, according to Michael. “He has his mail sent here when he’s away reporting.”

Michael has a particular affection for journalists, especially those who used to bring in review copies of books over the years.

“Many years ago I applied for a wine licence. I think wine and books go well together. A lot of the journalists who came in were heavy drinkers. I thought, if they came in with a book, for an extra three pounds they could trade it for a bottle of wine.”

Dreams of Bohemian hacks sipping wine and reading Maeve Binchy in the shop were quashed by the aptly-named Judge Hubert Wine.

‘Bohemian’ is word that sits uneasily on Michael’s shoulders, although he is undoubtedly a ‘creative’ himself. Prior to being a bookseller he was a published songwriter. Music runs in the family and his sister Clodagh has played with the likes of Thin Lizzie and Mike ‘Tubular Bells’ Oldfield. There is always music playing in the background at the Exchange. A box of tin whistles is perched on the higher reaches of shelves at the back of the shop. Ballad books sit alongside whimsical histories of Dublin and Lady Gregory’s Irish folk tales.

“It seems odd, as a bookseller, not to be ordering in new stock,” he says wistfully, looking at his soon-to-disassembled shelves. “I’ll be giving a lot of those books to charity.”

After 36 years of selling books, Michael plans to spend the next chapter of his life writing and publishing them. He has already produced two glossy tourist guidebooks which sell for €3. He will miss chatting to his customers though.

“Kids I sold to back in the 1970s have grown up with the Exchange, and now come in with their children. I’ll miss them all.

“I’m sad to be closing, but I’m looking forward to retirement. There are a lot of things I’d still like to do. I’d really like to learn how to play golf,” he says, clocking up his very last sale on the till.

“Let’s say €8.00 for that,” he tells his final customer, discounting a book by 50pc. He walks them to the door as a group of locals arrive with a book-shaped cake. Even in retirement there is no getting away from books. Inevitable gags are cracked about “eating his words” as Michael says his farewells.

He turns the key. Another chapter in Dublin’s history comes to an end.

* If you have any memories of the Exchange Bookshop, I’d love to hear them. Please write them up on the comments page, below. *