A former Tyrone GAA star who shot dead his father had been harbouring a secret need to kill either of his parents, the Court of Appeal heard today.
A consultant psychiatrist who assessed Sean Hackett told judges he is suffering from one of the purest forms of delusional disorder she has ever encountered.
Describing the case as unlike any other in Northern Ireland, Dr Carine Minne claimed the 20-year-old’s mental illness now requires expert medical attention.
She said: “He’s not just a homicide risk while he remains untreated, but also a suicide risk.”
Hackett is challenging a minimum 10-year prison term imposed for the manslaughter of his father Aloysius at the family home near Augher, Co Tyrone in January 2013.
A jury found him guilty last year on the grounds of diminished responsibility after acquitting him of murder.
Aloysius Hackett, a former chairman of St Macartan’s GAC in Augher, was shot twice in the head on the driveway of his Aghindarrah Road home.
His son Sean, who previously captained the Tyrone Minor GAA team, admitted carrying out the shooting but consistently denied murder.
At his trial it was set out how he had suffered depression in the preceding months, triggered by a split from his girlfriend.
Defence lawyers are now appealing the sentence by arguing that a hospital order should be considered as an alternative.
James Gallagher QC, for Hackett, stressed his client could not be accused of trying to manipulate the criminal justice system.
“The accused has said he considers that he doesn’t need treatment, but he acknowledged if the treatment is available to him he will avail of his,” he told the court.
“If a hospital order is deemed appropriate he would comply with that.”
Dressed in a white shirt, black tie and trousers, Hackett was escorted into court by guards for the appeal hearing.
His mother Eilish, who he tried to strangle just months before the shooting, sat in the public gallery along with other family members.
She listened as Mr Gallagher told the three judges that the relationship between her son and husband was described as being “like brothers”.
The barrister argued that his client was mentally ill at the time of the shooting and remains so now.
“There hasn’t been any sudden, self-cure without treatment or assessment,” he said.
Up to five psychiatrists back the view that Hackett was in a delusional state of mind when he carried out the killing.
One of those experts called to give fresh evidence was Dr Minne, who is based at the high security Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire.
She identified a series of factors contributing to Hackett’s mental health deteriorating in the months leading up to the shooting.
As well as breaking up with a girlfriend, the psychiatrist pointed to the death of a grandparent and the blow to his self-esteem when he failed to be picked for a football team.
By Autumn 2012 he had developed a belief that killing either of his parents would solve his problems, she claimed.
“He kept that secret to himself, and this delusion kept recurring over the coming weeks,” Dr Minne told the court.
Hackett first lured his mother into the family garage in a bid to strangle her, only to come to his senses and stop when she struggled and screamed.
Dr Minne revealed: “To quote him, he said ‘I just knew I had to do it’.”
He was taken to see his GP after that episode but was said to have insisted nothing was wrong as part of a “minimisation” of his illness.
At one point Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan asked Dr Minne if she knew of anything else like Hackett’s case.
She replied: “I’m not aware of another case of this type in Northern Ireland, but I have seen, assessed and treated cases of this kind through Broadmoor Hospital.”
Following the attempted strangulation Hackett’s thinking was said to have remained the same.
“The idea of needing to kill one of his parents persisted in his mind, but unbeknown to his family,” Dr Minne told the court.
The intensity of his relationship with them had been heightened by his brothers and sister all being away from home.
Hours before the shooting he nearly killed his mother before stopping at the last minute, it was claimed.
“He felt very scared and somehow couldn’t go through with it and withdrew, the psychiatrist said.
But according to her evidence Hackett was unable to tap into any such anxiety to stop himself from shooting his father later the same day.
In her assessment of Hackett she said he recalled feeling excited and tense as he heard his father arrive home.
After firing the first shot the victim’s son, in his delusional state, felt he had to shoot again to ensure he was dead, the court heard.
Significantly, Dr Minne claimed, Hackett stood over his father in a calm state of disbelief immediately after pulling the trigger.
“He felt as if he could be dreaming and wasn’t sure if he was really there or not really there,” she continued.
“He decided to walk around the house to see if the scene would still be there.
“At that moment he was in a disassociated state, where you’re not really fully aware of being present in reality, and you feel as if you’re in a dream and you’re going to snap out of it. Except he did not snap out of it.”
Following his arrest Hackett showed no signs of shock or horror at what he had done.
The psychiatrist added that since being taken into custody he has been “a poster boy prisoner”, adhering to all rules.
“He knew that everyone was shocked at him getting a life sentence with a 10-year tariff (but) he, on the other hand, accepted this quite rationally without any distress or protest and continued his prison routine to this day.
“It’s as if he has delegated all concerns to those around him, leaving him free of all psychological conflict.”
She contended that Hackett has still not fully understood that he killed his father.
“This case, of all the cases I have seen in Broadmoor in the last 25 years, is one of the purest forms of delusional disorder I have come across,” she told the judges.
According to her assessment any treatment in a psychiatric regime could take between five and ten years.
She added: “I’m so sorry Mr Hackett is not currently getting the treatment he needs.
“If it was my son suffering from this disorder I would really want him to be getting the treatment.”
Under cross-examination Ciaran Murphy QC, for the Crown, argued that Hackett had been capable of making decisions and exercising self-control in preparing and planning the shooting.
Dr Minne responded that by that stage there was no longer a sane part of his mind.
However, Mr Murphy insisted Hackett’s mental functioning enabled him to fire the gun, hide the weapon in a car boot and claim at first that a burglar may have carried out the shooting.
“It wasn’t dream-like when doing all these acts. They were well-directed,” the barrister contended.
Following submissions Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, reserved judgment in the appeal.