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Pervert priest took his own sad life with a cocktail of whiskey and drugs.

PERVERT priest Sean Fortune took his own life with a cocktail of drugs and whiskey an inquest ruled yesterday.

It also emerged that the cleric carefully planned his suicide just weeks before he was due to stand trial on 29 child sex abuse charges.

The burly clergyman instructed his housekeeper not to call on the day he had decided he would end his life by overdosing on prescribed drugs and a full bottle of whiskey.

He then phoned trusted caretaker Peter Bennett with the same message.

A pathologist revealed that Fr Fortune may have died only minutes after the call - 36 hours before his body was discovered.

Gardai also told an inquest jury how a sacred ordination tanker containing a powdery substance was found by his lifeless corpse.

The jury heard the full shocking details of how the 45-year-old Wexford priest took his own life in the fortress home he built around himself after being accused of abusing eight young boys throughout the 1980s.

Fr Fortune's body was discovered by housekeeper Margaret Stamp and caretaker Mr Bennett on the morning of Saturday March 13.

He was found in bed, lying on his back and dressed in full clerical garb. He was wearing glasses, and entwined around his hands were a set of rosary beads.

Close to his bed was a suicide note to his family with the title: "A message from Heaven to my family." In it he asked for their forgiveness.

None of the paedophile suspect's next of kin were at the inquest in New Ross yesterday.

Ms Stamp, his housekeeper of 14 years, told South Wexford coroner Jimmy Murphy of the final days leading up to the pervert priest's lonely death in the house he had fitted with security cameras and iron shutters to block out the world.

She told of how she called to the rented house in New Ross at 9.00am on the Wednesday before his body was discovered.

During the day she drove Fr Fortune to Waterford to meet some friends and left him at three in the afternoon.

The next day he phoned her and instructed her not to call with him the following day as had been her practice for years.

Instead he asked her to call to his New Ross house the next day, Saturday, and told her to expect to find the shutters down.

On the Wednesday night at midnight, Fr Fortune also called his caretaker of three years Mr Bennett, but the phone rang out before he could answer.

Mr Bennett told the inquest he was surprised when it rang again an hour later with a message to check his voicemail box. When he did he heard the priest's voice telling him not to call to the house until Saturday.

The cleric lied that he was going away with some priest friends and would not be at home.

Mr Bennett, who last saw Fr Fortune on Wednesday afternoon and described him as being in "good form" was possibly the last person to hear the priest's voice.

The following Saturday Margaret Stamp did as her boss has requested and called to his home.

She immediately sensed that something was not right when she saw the shutters locked tightly down.

Straight away she rang Mr Bennett who arrived minutes later. He told yesterday's hearing that he grew concerned when they opened the door and discovered the alarm which the paranoid priest had installed was not activated.

He recalled that there was a funny smell in the house. The two then went upstairs and discovered the suspect paedophile's body.

Mr Bennett said: "The media pressure was getting to him and that is why he had the security.

"He never talked about the allegations but always protested his innocence. I never knew him to drink but there was an empty whiskey bottle in the bin beside the bed."

The first Garda on the scene, Det Gda Michael Cleere, said he checked the cleric's body for a pulse but found none.

He noted the empty whiskey bottle and also spotted a variety of tablets.

He described how Fr Fortune's rosary beads were entwined around his hands.

Det Gda Cleere also found the suicide note addressed to the priest's brother Tom. It included instructions that it be read at his funeral mass in the Wexford parish of Ballymurn.

The body was removed from the New Ross house and taken to Waterford General Hospital for a post mortem.

Yesterday pathologist Joseph O'Connor revealed that the remains showed early signs of decomposition.

Dr O'Connor said the priest could have been dead for 36 hours when his body was discovered. He believed he could have died shortly after phoning his caretaker and leaving a voice message instructing him not to call to the house for another 24 hours.

The pathologist added that to his knowledge the drugs which contributed to Fr Fortune's death were all prescribed.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of death due to Cardio Respiratory Failure - secondary to multiple drug and alcohol overdosage.

Victims of the paedophile priest believe he killed himself rather than face dozens of sex abuse charges.

He was facing nearly 30 charges of buggery, sexual assault and gross indecency against young boys in his care in the 1980s. But following a four-year legal battle to keep his case out of the courts he conceded defeat and took his life with the lethal cocktail of morphine and whiskey.

Victims of the sick cleric, who thought they had finally got him into court to answer for his crimes, told the Irish Mirror that they felt "cheated" by his suicide.

Gardai believe that the litany of Fr Fortune's sex crimes is only rivalled by that of Ireland's most notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth.

He was also being investigated for alleged fraud linked to FAS courses and a media training course he ran in the parish he ruled with an iron fist.

The priest was due back in Wexford Circuit Court on March 23 to face 29 charges of buggery and sexual assault.

His charge sheet contained one count of buggery, 12 charges of gross indecency and 16 of indecent assault.

His trial had been due to begin on March 2 in front of a jury and Judge Joseph Matthews.

Amid bizarre scenes the heavily overweight 45-year-old priest arrived into the courtroom in a wheelchair and wearing dark sunglasses and his clerical garb and collar.

He then switched to a pair of crutches to help him struggle to the witness box to face the charges.

The priest claimed that he was suffering from weak bones in his legs but many of victims accused him of play-acting.

The 29 charges took more than 15 minutes to read out and after hearing 15 of them the priest attracted the attention of Judge Matthews.

He said: "May I sit down judge. I am very weak."

Then, when the charges were read for a second time for the benefit of the newly sworn in jury, Fr Fortune fell asleep in the courtroom.

He dozed as three of the crimes he was alleged to have committed were detailed.

A Garda then crossed the court to rouse him. Some of the priest's victims looked on in horror as he caused a commotion jumping up into his seat and shouting out.

But the drama did not end there.

With the jury absent Judge Matthews was hit with two challenges from the priest's legal team seeking more time.

The first one, relating to a witness being unavailable, was ruled out.

But a second one which stated that Fr Fortune was on medication which made it impossible to properly instruct his legal team was partially accepted.

The Judge ordered that the priest be taken to the Central Mental Hospital in Dublin to undergo an assessment.

The court was due to reconvene next week for a trial within a trial which would ascertain whether or not he was mentally capable of facing the charges. However, a trade dispute at the Hospital meant he could not be admitted and was instead taken to Mountjoy prison in Dublin.

Then he successfully applied for bail in the High Court in Dublin.

He was released on a pounds 5,000 guarantee of his own money and a further pounds 5,000 independent surety.

The conditions of his bail were that he signed on once a week in his local Garda station, that he underwent psychological evaluation on behalf of the state and that he remained at a specific address.

Fr Fortune was then free to return to his home in New Ross which he had turned into a personal fortress.

The priest had security shutters put on all his doors and windows fearing recriminations from furious victims especially from the seaside tourist town of Fethard where most of his crimes took place.

Fr Fortune was also facing questioning from the RUC over sexual abuse charges in the late seventies.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Leslie, Neil; Furlong, Brendan
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 27, 1999
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