The father of a very young girl was arrested as he was about to sexually abuse her on an internet webcam. He had been in contact through an internet chat room with a person who he believed shared his interest in sexual activity with infants. The person he was conversing with was an undercover police officer in another jurisdiction.
When he told the undercover police officer that his wife was out shopping and that he would abuse his daughter live on webcam, the police contacted the Garda Siochana, who arrested him and took the child into care under Section 12 of the Child Care Act.
The details of the father’s activities and his arrest were given in the course of an application in the District Court by the HSE for a Care Order for the child, who had been placed with foster carers under an Interim Care Order. The mother opposed the Care Order application. The father left the jurisdiction following his arrest and played no part in the proceedings. The case has not yet been finalised.
During the Care Order hearing the court heard that the father had first met his wife, the child’s mother, in another jurisdiction when she was 13 or 14 years old, and had embarked on a sexual relationship with her when she was 16. He was 12 years older than she was and ran a business providing discos to schools and running an Internet radio station. She became pregnant when she was 17 and gave birth to the child when she was 18.
The CFA case centred on the belief that the mother had been groomed by the father as a child and was under his influence and therefore could not guarantee the child’s safety if she was returned to her. The court heard evidence of the mother showing photos of the father to the child at access and asking her to kiss them.
There were also allegations that the child had already been abused by the father, and that the mother was aware of this and may have participated in the abuse. This was strongly denied by the mother, who during the trial said she accepted that the father was responsible for child pornography on his computer and had possibly abused their child.
Both the social worker and the guardian ad litem suggested that the mother was reminding the child of abuse at access.
Psychologists gave extensive evidence on the risk posed to the child by both parents. The psychologist who examined the mother said she did not think she could protect the child from the father. The expert who examined the father said that if the father was responsible for the images on his computer he was a very significant danger to children, and he considered him ready to involve the mother in the abuse of the child. “I believe he has lied about many aspects of his behaviour. He has a significant interest in children,” he said.
The case had been heard over 20 days, extended over more than a three-month period, and the judge described it as “a very complex case involving serious matters including allegations of the most serious nature. Some of the evidence heard was most disturbing and upsetting,” he said.
He ordered a specialist assessment of the child’s disclosures before making his final ruling.
The Garda who arrested the father said he denied that he was about to abuse his daughter. He cried and said she was the love of his life. When the Garda arrested him his wife was present. She asked her husband was it true and he said no. The Garda said he did not hear her express any anger towards her husband. The father was released from custody the following day and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The gardai seized a large number of computers and other electronic equipment from the home and subsequent analysis of a laptop revealed a video which showed the abuse of an Asian child aged about two years by an unidentified man. The father denied any knowledge of it and suggested his computer had either been hacked or used by a neighbour who had access to it.
The father has now returned to his country of origin and was not participating in the care order proceedings. The mother had also left this jurisdiction but returned to Ireland for the hearing of the Care Order application and was represented by the Legal Aid Board with senior and junior counsel.
The court heard evidence that the father had previously been arrested in another jurisdiction and questioned about his relationship with the mother, who at that stage was under-age, and on another occasion he had been arrested and questioned about having indecent images on his computer but he was not charged with any offence.
A member of the Garda Siochana Paedophile Investigation Unit, who oversaw the investigation and co-ordinated the Garda response, said the mother seemed quite detached at the time of her husband’s arrest. She didn’t make any eye contact with her and she was playing with the family dog.
The Garda said she had seen wives verbally attack husbands and question gardai quite vociferously in similar circumstances but the reaction of this wife was quite different. “She didn’t give any reaction. I found it quite unusual,” she said. The Garda said the mother was not a suspect in relation to the collection and distribution of child pornography.
Social worker evidence
A social worker with the Child and Family Agency said she was the duty social worker on the day of the arrest and she described attending the house and speaking to the mother about her husband being engaged on-line with an undercover police officer and stating that he was going to abuse his daughter and post it live online. “She was very flat and defensive with the gardai and asked them to prove it and show her the evidence,” she said.
The social worker said the mother was not really taking on board the concerns for the safety of the child. The court was told that there were 15 gardai in the house at the time as well as HSE staff. The child engaged immediately with them and asked for their names. “There were a lot of guards in different rooms and A (the child) wandered around the house. The child was oblivious to what was going on. This was quite unusual for a child of that age. Usually they would want to cling close to their mother,” she said.
When the gardai handed the child over to the HSE/CFA she was taken to a nearby hospital, which the child had been attending regularly as she had complex medical needs. She was discharged two days later into the care of her foster carers. The social worker said she and her team leader met with the child’s parents on the same day and they outlined their concerns about the Garda information that the father was about to sexually abuse his daughter online.
The father denied it and was “very emotional” while the mother was “quite emotionless”. She said she was still in a relationship with her husband and that the gardai had not shown any evidence to her. The husband was “in total denial of what the guards had said to him,” she said.
The social worker said the mother told her that her relationship with her husband began when she was 14 and he was 12 years older. She said a sexual relationship commenced with him when she was 16. “We said she had been groomed by him,” she stated.
She said the mother continually advocated contact between the father and their daughter in the weeks after she was taken into care. “I was concerned about this advocacy. I thought it was unusual,” she said. The mother was minimising the concerns which existed about the father and the social worker said that up to the end of her involvement in the case about two months after the arrest she had ongoing concerns about the father. She also had concerns that the mother might have been involved in taking photographs and other forms of abuse of the child.
She said the mother would not follow directions or listen to the advice that was being given about not taking photographs of the child during access. She was not focusing on her relationship with the child during access but was instead focusing on the child’s relationship with her father and she was getting her to write pictures for him.
The social worker was very unclear about the couple’s relationship. They separated, were back together, separated again and then he left the country. “There seemed to be in a lot of contact.” She said she reminded the mother of the need to place the child first but that she would continue to advocate on the father’s behalf and sought access for him. She got her daughter to write to him and put kisses on the bottom of letters.
Disclosures to foster carers
About a month after the child was taken into care, the social worker said she was contacted by the foster carer about disclosures which the child had made to her. While the foster carer was assisting the child in going to the toilet, she had become upset. She talked about falling into the toilet at home and of her mother and father taking photographs of her. The foster carer said when she was changing the child on the bed, she had spread her legs and was touching herself. She said the child told her she had been photographed doing this. The social worker said she had grave concerns for the child. “Our hope initially was that we had saved her but we were now concerned that abuse had occurred and she would be at serious risk if she was returned.”
The foster carer gave evidence that the child told her how she fell into the toilet and that she cried and her father took photographs of her. While she was lying on the bed naked from the waist down she was asked by the foster carer, who was putting a nappy on the child, if her father had take pictures of her like that. She said he had taken pictures of her on the floor. When the foster carer asked her if she was naked at the time she said “Yes, I was a nudie girl.” She said that when she had fallen into the toilet, her mother had laughed and her father had taken a photograph.
Two days later, the foster carer was about to put on a nappy and the child, who was lying on the bed, again referred to the incident where she fell into the toilet. She said she had cried and that her mammy and daddy had taken pictures. “I laid her on her bed and (the child) put her hand down and was touching herself. She was touching her clitoris, she was twiddling her finger, lying down with her legs out. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was checking her ‘rice krispie’. I asked her who showed her that and she said her mummy and daddy. I asked did daddy take a picture and she said yes and laughed.”
The foster carer told of an occasion when they were planning to go to a restaurant for an evening meal. Earlier in the day the child would not eat a sandwich and the foster carer told her that if she did not eat the sandwich she could not go to the restaurant and she would have to get a babysitter for that evening. The child asked would it be a man babysitter and the foster carer asked what man babysitter. The child said the one that hurt her. She said he slapped her and she pointed to her bottom. “I asked her did he do anything else and she said he turned her into a baby and put a doody in her mouth.”
When the witness told another foster child that she would get a babysitter for him if he didn’t behave the child who is the subject of these proceedings said to him: “You don’t want one of them. They hurt you, they stick needles up your butt.” When the foster carer asked her who did that, she said it was a baby sitter.
Gardai interview child
Access with the mother was suspended while specialist garda interviewers met the child. One of them gave evidence that at the first meeting the child had engaged well with them but became angry and refused to talk about her parents when shown a photograph of them. The Garda said she went into a corner and began to bang tea lights up and down. She had changed in a few minutes. “The transformation was extreme. It was very obvious and quite a dramatic change,” the Garda said. When she mentioned to the child that she had spoken to her foster carer about her “rice crispie”, the child lifted her top and pointed to where her feeding peg [arising from her medical condition] had been and also to her groin. The child put her hands on the guard’s neck and said: “You’re dead, you’re dead”.
The second meeting with the child took place in a family room in a Garda station. She had been colouring books at a table and moved away when she was asked about her parents. “She just removed herself away. It was like she had gone into another place – like a fixed trance.” The Garda said the response had been immediate when it was suggested to her that she draw pictures of her parents. She said she had never interviewed a child who “was so obviously resistant as this child in her behaviour.”
While playing with the child, the gardai had attempted to engage her in talking about her parents and her life with them but she would not answer and either moved away or changed the subject. “She became too distressed…….we were not getting any feedback, which contrasted starkly with when she was talking about other things,” the Garda said.
She agreed with the mother’s senior counsel that the child’s reaction could have been brought about by the fact that she had not seen her parents for five or six weeks and that her meetings with the gardai were a reminder of this, but she added the child had never asked any questions about her parents. “You couldn’t look at her behaviour and not be concerned about it,” she said.
The child had kissed both gardai on the lips when they met for the second time and the Garda said this was very unusual and she did not think she had been kissed on the lips by a child before. The Garda had earlier told the court that she had interviewed over 150 children in the course of her work as an interviewer. Although no disclosures had been made by the child, the Garda said the file was still open and the matter could be revisited if disclosures were made later.
Child born with serious medical issues
The court was told that the child had been born prematurely with a number of serious medical issues. These were outlined by a consultant paediatrician who had been responsible for her care since the family moved into her area from another town in 2010. Multiple referrals had been made. She remained a very small child and this could have been caused by an underlying genetic abnormality. She had significant problems from birth including various feeding issues which required the insertion of a feeding tube into her stomach. She was well used to this feeding when she moved house but there were concerns that the child was losing weight.
The parents indicated that they had, against advice, stopped feeding her through the feeding peg. They were told to keep diaries on the feeding but had not done so. She was aware the parents were feeding her junk food and she had reiterated every time she met them that the feeds must continue. There were concerns that the child was vomiting frequently and the consultant said that in November 2011 she had received an e-mail from the mother which stated the child was “eating like a horse and then being sick.” The issue of nutrition had always been a concern and she was trying to find out why the child was vomiting.
The parents had missed a number of appointments in different hospitals and they would usually say that they did not get the letter or that the child was vomiting. She said the doctors knew that the parents were giving her more food orally than was recommended. The parents had written a long letter of complaint questioning whether appointments had actually been made for them. “I found it very interesting and disappointing that they didn’t turn up,” she said.
When the results of tests indicated that oral feeds could be increased, the parents were told that it was important that proper diaries were kept to ensure the child was getting an adequate intake of nutrition but, she said, the parents did not keep appointments or complete diaries. The child’s weight began to decrease but within three weeks of going into care her weight was increasing and tube feeding had ceased. The parents had been reporting vomiting, choking and coughing but these were not an issue after the child was taken into care.
The consultant said the parents had missed a total of 17 appointments for the child over a 16 month period and her height and weight would have made her look like an 18 month old baby even though she was significantly older than that. She was satisfied the parents had been getting information about the necessity of nutrition and calories for her to grow from three different sources.
Risk assessment of mother
Two psychologists who specialise in working with people accused of sexual abuse were engaged by the CFA to carry out risk assessments on the parents. One of them told the court that she had been asked to carry out an assessment of the risk posed by the mother to her daughter, her ability to provide long term care for her and her capacity to supervise contact between her husband and daughter. She told the court that it was less typical that risk assessments would be done on women and many people did not recognise that women engage in harmful abuse of children. She said that where women had been found to have harmed children sexually, they may have been coerced and in rarer cases they would have been the initiator.
The mother at their first meeting was very vehement that her husband had not been responsible for the chat logs or the video of a child being abused. “All she wanted was her daughter back.” The witness said the mother told her somebody else, possibly a neighbour, must have done it or else the computer had been hacked. The mother told her she was aware that her husband had been arrested in 2008 in another jurisdiction for possession of indecent images and that he had been arrested and questioned in the same jurisdiction about his relationship with her while she was under age. She told the psychologist she did not have a sexual relationship with him until she was 17.
The psychologist said the mother was categorical that she never harmed her daughter. Her response to the disclosures was that the child didn’t know what she was saying. The mother was not weighing up the possibility that something had happened and had said: “I think the foster carer has been talking to her (the daughter) and getting her to say things.” When the CFA barrister asked the witness what the mother had said in response to the child’s reference to playing with her “rice krispie”, she said the mother told her that this was the term used for the feeding tube which became encrusted from time to time and the daughter had given it that name.
When the mother was asked by the psychologist about inappropriate photographs of the child she denied taking pictures of her while naked. Asked about the incident when her daughter fell into the toilet she said she did not take a picture but had called her husband to witness the incident and said it was funny and they were laughing. The witness described this as an example of the mother not seeing things from the perspective of the child. “She was laughing as she told that story. I would have preferred if she had asked – in the light of what is going on – ‘should I have comforted her more?’ It raises the question of someone being sensitive to the cues of the child,” she said.
The psychologist said the mother was struggling to weigh up her husband’s possible risk to the daughter. The mother had said she did not feel she had been groomed by him when she was a child. When the judge asked if specific work could be done with the mother given the likelihood that she had been groomed, the psychologist referred to educative work which would help her to understand the grooming process and sexual abuse and she said a six month pre-intervention session would be required. Work should go ahead for her irrespective of the outcome of any criminal charges to help her to understand what had happened. “She was a child and he may have groomed her,” she said. “There are a lot of issues to be worked through – a lot of years of influence.”
She said her assessment of the mother could not be categorical as to whether she had a sexual motivation in taking pictures of the child. She said the mother had not been able to reflect on areas where her daughter was at risk. While some of her focus was on wanting to get her daughter back she also focused on the social services and external factors such as the possibility that someone had hacked into the computer rather than asking “is there something going on in our own world?”
The psychologist was not convinced that significant change would occur. “I do think she was making more statements like ‘I think he might have done it’ but I wasn’t convinced she wouldn’t compartmentalise it and resume her relationship with him.”
Concerns of social workers
The social worker who was assigned to the mother from November 2013 was asked what work had been done with the mother following on the recommendations of the psychologist and she said that from her meetings with the mother she did not feel she had moved on enough in order to start work with her. “Motivation and understanding were necessary otherwise the piece of work would be wasted,” she said.
The mother had moved out of Ireland to live with her mother and she said she was “over and back” a good bit. She said she was no longer in a relationship with the father as he was not there for her “in the past year”. She gave no other reason and at no stage did she say he was a risk to her daughter. She wanted to see the chat log, the language used and the IP address and she wanted to know if her daughter was in danger. “This raised more concerns for me. She was still asking if her daughter was in danger a year after it had happened. She was aware of the video on the computer.” The mother told her that if her daughter was returned to her she would leave the jurisdiction and live with her mother.
A social worker who was supervising access said the mother had attended for supervised access in January this year with a bundle of photographs and asked if she could show them to her daughter. When she asked the mother if they included pictures of the father she confirmed that they included pictures of their wedding day and pictures of the child on holidays with her father. She agreed to remove them from the pile.
“We had discussed our child protection concerns and concerns about previous sexual abuse. Turning up with photos (of the father) showed she didn’t accept the concerns. She hadn’t seen her father for a year and showing the pictures would have had a huge emotional impact on her, given that we now know that sexual abuse may have occurred.” A decision was made in consultation with the team leader that none of the pictures should be shown. The social worker said at this point they did not feel the mother would act as a protective factor for the child as, “one year on, we haven’t been able to see her putting (her daughter’s) needs in front of her own.”
The social worker described another access session where the mother and daughter were using Playdo and the mother made a shape with it and asked her daughter what did it look like and her daughter didn’t answer, went to a couch and hid behind a piece of cardboard and looked at the social worker. The child’s behaviour changed dramatically and she was, according to the social worker, seeking reassurance from her.
The child said “daddy” and the social worker then noticed that the Playdo was in the shape of a penis. She believed the child’s behaviour was symptomatic of sexual abuse. The mother displayed no alarm or concern and said she had been making one of the letters in her child’s name.
Risk assessment of father
A psychologist who works with people with a sexual interest in children told the court he had been asked to assess the father in the case. The man had moved to another jurisdiction and he met him there.
He said people who abuse are influenced by their experience as children. For example, a child who is beaten all the time will have fantasies about getting back at the person. If they are adolescents, this will be linked to arousal and to a sense of power and control. They may go on to exercise control over children. Thus some sex offenders are not predominantly interested in sex with children, but in control and power. Someone who wants to do something penetrative with a very young child is much more likely to be interested in power and control than in sex. However, a person who says a young child is coming on to him and wants him to do something sexual is more likely to be sexually interested in children, he said.
In this case he said he did not have access to what was on the father’s computer. He asked him if the gardai were likely to find any images of children on his computer and he said “No”. However, not only were such images found, they were shown to the father in the Garda interview.
He said grooming involved the manipulation of the perceptions of the child. In this case the father had manipulated the mother when she was a child so that she thought they had a boyfriend and girlfriend relationship. A man in his 20s manipulating a young teenager would deny anything sexual was going on.
He said child sex abusers lie. He had worked with people day in and day out for 18 months and still felt he did not get at the truth, while with others he felt he got at the truth after six months. In this case the father said there were no indecent images on his computer, yet when confronted with them he had no explanation. It was characteristic of an abuser to try to keep as much back as possible.
The father in this case had been arrested in 2008 in the other jurisdiction for possessing indecent images of children. He admitted he was interested in the mother, now his wife, when she was 14 or 15. If he was found to have an interest in a pre-pubescent child this would indicate risk. He seemed to have three areas of sexual interest: pre-pubescent, post-pubescent and adult females.
He said the father had certain physical problems that would have posed problems with peer relationships and meant he could have been bullied. This could have led to him seeking relationships with teenage girls based on his need for self-esteem and affirmation.
He had aspirations to be a DJ and worked in a local music store in the other jurisdiction and in an internet-based radio station, which he ran from his own home. This was how he met his wife. He had road shows in schools to promote the radio station. Eventually they tied it down that he had probably met her when she was 13. He indicated their intimate relationship began after her 16th birthday, that is, after she reached the age of consent in the other jurisdiction. The police arrested him on suspicion of grooming her when underage. Her father was worried about the relationship.
Attempting to explain the images on the computer, he suggested someone had hacked both his wife’s and his computers. Technically this was very, very difficult and would leave evidence.
At a joint meeting with the father and mother, the psychologist said they had a joint story that there had been no sexual contact between them before she was 16. Then he admitted there had been, and she was left in the position of lying for him. He then sought to minimise the contact to a kiss. He then moved to suggesting she might be responsible for the material on the computer and asked why she had not been arrested.
The content of the conversation on-line indicated he was offering to abuse his daughter while the mother was out of the house. However, he also said he was interested in seeing a female engage in sexual activity with his daughter. This could be an independent female, or he intended to draw his wife into the abuse.
The fact that he had been able to pursue his relationship with the mother despite the concerns of professionals and of her family showed someone who was able to disregard the safety of a child in favour of his own needs. The psychologist said he was currently dealing with four people who had set themselves up as DJs to attract young women. The fact that he targeted schools was indicative of his tendencies.
He appeared to have an extensive range of sexual interests and the capacity to hurt a child. “If he hasn’t already, I consider him ready to involve the mother in the abuse of the child. I believe he has lied about many aspects of his behaviour. He has a significant interest in children. If the court concludes he is responsible for the images on his computer he is a very significant danger to children and should not have unsupervised access to his child,” the psychologist said.
“If he has abused her already the child will be aware of it and he can re-abuse her emotionally in very subtle ways. If he has, it would be very inadvisable to allow any level of contact without knowing of his level of arousal. You would have to have a very experienced supervisor who understands covert sexual abuse.”
Asked about the mother bringing pictures of the father to access meetings with the child, he said that this probably meant she did not think he was responsible for any abuse and wanted the child to think positively of him.
The mother’s senior counsel said she had come to a developing realisation and accepted there was sexual contact before she was 16. She did think the father represented a risk to her child. He said the father was not having access. Her access had been reduced horrendously, a lot of things were suggested about what she did in access.
The psychologist said that contextualisation was important. If the father acknowledged he was responsible for the images and they could explore the extent to which he drew the mother into the process they could discover how entirely innocuous objects can be used to sexualise a child. For example, he had seen situations where a hairbrush was used to stimulate a child’s clitoris and, when produced in access, could be part of continued abuse. It was very difficult to interpret behaviour. The information had to come from the abuser in therapy.
There was a boastful element in online conversations. In relation to this one, the officers would have been very experienced and were highly alarmed. A lot of what the police officer said was designed to delay what the father was saying he would do in order to give the police time to get to the IP address. The reference to getting a female involved was a game-changer.
Referring to the mother, he said an essential first step was that she recognised this man was a threat to her daughter, she needed a substantial behavioural change. There was a whole sequence of things she had to do. She had to re-think her relationship with him and with her daughter. This would require very intensive work with her for at least eight months. If this was not done the chances of him walking back into her life in two or three years’ time were very high indeed.
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem referred to disclosures from the child to her foster parent. She said she lay on the bed and opened her legs and mummy and daddy took her picture. She asked the psychologist to comment, but he said he was not a child psychologist.
Asked about what happened during access, he said that the main area of concern was the bringing of photographs. If the court was to find that the child’s disclosures meant the mother was involved in abuse you view the incidents in a sinister light, but it was quite a leap. It was possible the mother was being groomed into being involved. It was not unreasonable that the GAL would be concerned.
Asked if a person could be both a victim and a perpetrator, the psychologist said yes, especially with female sex offenders. Even quite experienced child protection workers have difficulty in recognising female sex offenders.
He said it was advisable to have a very experienced professional doing supervision of the access. If the mother acknowledged she was a victim of the father she needed to go further. “There is a long journey to where we want someone to be in order to protect their child in the future.”
Asked why her acceptance of her own sexual abuse as a teenager was important, he said: “Because it will change her perception of the father from a fundamentally nice guy who would not harm a child to someone who sexually exploited her. It does not change just her part of the story, it potentially changes the whole story.”
Asked by the judge if it was unusual for a child of that age to touch themselves, the psychologist said a child might touch themselves for comfort. It was important to be clear exactly what the child was doing. There was a need to distinguish between a child touching themselves in masturbation, and digital penetration.
The mother gave evidence over three days. She said she was 13 when she first met her husband. He was 12 years older and he was operating a radio roadshow at her school. He became a family friend and he was also friendly with other people living on the same street. He was questioned by the police after her brother told her father he had seen both of them sitting on a bed in their house and her mother was told by the police that she was possibly being groomed by him. Her mother told her to stay away from him and he was not allowed to visit the house any more.
She said she met him again when she was 16 and went to live with him when she was 17. She said he was arrested one morning as they were on their way to work and when he returned home he told her it was a routine matter as his name had not been cleared off their files for an outstanding warrant. He said that his computer had been taken by the police the previous year but he was not charged with any offence as everybody had access to the computer at his place of work. “I didn’t see him as a horrible person so I didn’t think he could have done anything like that,” she said.
They moved to Ireland in 2008 and their daughter was born here with a number of serious medical complications. In 2010, they moved to a different area and their daughter came under the care of a different medical team. She said her daughter got a lot of chest infections and would vomit a lot. She had gained good weight but would lose it again when she started vomiting and got infections. She said there had been a lot of medical appointments in 2012 and some had been missed but a lot of them had been attended. “There would be appointments where I rang up and rescheduled and others where I forgot and didn’t ring up.”
On the day that her child was taken into care and her husband was arrested, she told the court she had gone out in her car to get coal and logs. As she was returning to her house she passed a police car. After she had parked her car she went to the back of her house and heard a knock on the front door. When she went around to the front door, she saw a Garda there and heard him say “you can’t go anywhere near your daughter.” She said her husband was denying that he had done anything.
When her husband was released from custody the following day she asked him what had he done and he denied any wrongdoing. He told her there was a video on the computer and there were also chat logs where people were talking about new born babies and six week old babies. She believed his denials. She told her barrister that, after the child was taken into care, her husband had attended 15 or more access meetings. One of the reasons why he left this jurisdiction, the mother said, was that she had been told by one of the social workers she would not get her daughter back if he did not leave the country. She said she understood what the social workers’ concerns were but she had done nothing wrong.
Asked by her barrister why she wanted to see the transcripts of the chat logs, she replied “I wanted to know did it sound like (her husband). I wanted to see the language and the words used.” He told her he had never had any chat logs and didn’t know about the video on the computer. “I wanted to know whether to believe him or not.” She said she was “absolutely shocked and disgusted” at the content of the chat logs. “Do you believe him now?” her barrister asked. “Absolutely not,” she replied.
She said no one in Ireland supported her now apart from her solicitor and barristers. She decided to go abroad to live with her mother. She had been hoping that the social services would give her child “slowly back to me” but “not once did they say they would try and give her back to me”. She said after her husband had left the country her daughter would kick and scream at the end of access and say she did not want to leave. When her barrister said this was not reflected in the social work notes, she replied “when they were giving evidence they never once said she cried.”
She said that at the end of every access until the end of February last year the child would kick and scream and ask “if she could go home with mammy and daddy.” She said access was supervised in a room and she had asked during the summer if she could take her daughter to feed the ducks under supervision. The social worker said she would look into it for the next time but it never happened.
Asked about the effect of this restricted access, she said it was very hard because “I know she loves me because she runs into my arms and says Mammy I miss you and I love you and, even though she has formed a bond with her foster carer, I know her love for me is still there.” Her barrister asked her if she had been offered any help for herself by the social services she said she had not been offered any help apart from a cognitive self-assessment session which she could not attend. She said the CFA had never discussed reunification with her.
She said she needed help to realise what she had gone through in the past year and what could have happened to her daughter. She now accepted that her husband was a danger to her daughter because of the chat logs. “If he had that conversation he was more than likely to have downloaded the video,” she stated. She said she would now consent to a permanent Barring Order against him. “If he came to my door even if there wasn’t a Barring Order I would call the police.” She said her sexual relationship with her husband began when she was 16. When the CFA’s barrister suggested to her that her relationship with her husband was child abuse by him she said she accepted now that she might have been groomed “a little bit” by him.
When the CFA barrister asked her about the incident when her daughter fell into the toilet, she said she and her daughter were laughing when it happened and denied that her daughter was crying. She had never seen her husband take photographs of her daughter when she was naked. Judge: “So you are not ruling it out?” Mother: “No.”
The CFA barrister asked her about the disclosures that the child had made to her foster carer and she said she believed the foster carer was “putting more words in her mouth than what she was saying.” Asked about the incident at access where it was alleged she had made Playdo in the shape of a penis and had asked her daughter twice what did it look like, the mother said it did not look like a penis to her from where she was sitting and she was hoping her daughter would recognise it as one of the letters in her name. The social worker told her it might have triggered a memory but said she would not mention it in court because she knew she did not do it deliberately yet in evidence the social worker had said she believed it was deliberate.
The solicitor for the GAL asked the mother about the last time she had contact with her husband. She said she had been updating him on the court appearances but had stopped doing this as she felt it was no longer appropriate as the social workers had stopped telephone contact between him and his daughter. The solicitor suggested to her that it was not plausible that they had just stopped phoning each other but the mother said he knew things were obviously getting worse and “I think he got the message.” The solicitor suggested it was an extraordinary coincidence that they both stopped contacting each other at the same time.
The mother was asked by the GAL’s solicitor about evidence that the child had difficulty swallowing and if she knew why she had this difficulty. The mother said her daughter had a cleft palate and other medical problems as well as an aversion with feedings. Solicitor: “She is choosing to hold things in her mouth. Does that cause you any concern because the medical tests showed there was no reason? Were you aware that it was a symptom of oral rape?” Mother: “No”.
The solicitor suggested to her that she knew what was going on and that was why she reminded her daughter about her father at access and got her to draw pictures and put kisses on cards for her father. “You didn’t do anything to help the investigation. Didn’t you think you could keep A (daughter) quiet?” Mother: “I didn’t want her to be confused and think her dad had walked out of her life”.
The GAL’s solicitor asked her about the disclosure made by her daughter about a babysitter and she said she had never had a babysitter except on one occasion when she had to go to a funeral and a neighbour babysat for her. She said she didn’t go to the gardai as she did not want to have him interviewed.
Solicitor: “Surely you would want him interviewed. Isn’t that another lie? If you cared about her you wouldn’t care about someone being interviewed?”
Mother: “I didn’t have any proof.”
She said she did not want to go to the police and accuse the neighbour of things she was not sure of. The solicitor said this was not plausible. “The reason you didn’t want anyone looking was they would be looking at you.”
Mother: “I wasn’t bothered about them asking questions about me but it would have turned the neighbour’s family upside down.”
The solicitor referred to previous evidence by a psychologist who had been concerned about references in the chat logs to a woman and child having sex and suggested that would have changed the way people looked at her if they knew about the contents of the chat log. She asked her if she now believed the baby referred to in the chat logs might have been her daughter and she replied it was possible. She was asked if she accepted the psychotherapist’s evidence that, after hearing the transcript, her daughter was probably sexually abused from a very young age and she replied: “I didn’t accept it because I never saw anything. But from hearing the chat log and the psychologist’s evidence, I believe it was possible.”
When the judge asked her if she now considered that her husband had abused their daughter she replied: “I do think it happened but do the guards still not have to give their answer?”
Judge: “If he is not convicted what’s your view then?”
Mother: “It wouldn’t change my opinion.” She told the judge she didn’t believe she had been groomed by her husband.
Judge: “But having heard all the experts, they say that you were groomed. How does that tie into your view?”
Mother: “He was a friend of the family”.
Judge: “But you ended up having sexual relations with a person who was 12 years older.”
Mother: “But he didn’t groom me to do that”.
When the judge pointed out that two experts had given evidence they believed sexual relations started before she was “of age”, she replied: “I understand that’s the expert opinion but nothing happened before I was 16.”
Judge: “Do you believe your childhood was stolen by Mr X (husband)?”.
Mother: “I do.”
Judge: “Well that’s a long way towards accepting that you were groomed.
“Through maybe no fault of your own, maybe you are not a protective factor. I have to make a decision on what is the best for [A] but you have to look at what has happened to you. Your childhood was stolen, you were only 15 or 16, through no fault of your own. I have to look at the possibility that you were both abused. That’s the difficult decision I have to make.
“You came to Ireland when you were just gone 17. You conceived when you were still 17. Your baby was born when you were 18. It may be you knew or ought to have known, that you might have been complicit, and you are saying you have no hand act or part in it.
“But as a mother isn’t it an awful thing to think that your child was abused under your roof? The District Court is the lowest court but the hardest job I have as a judge is to make decisions about children. I can only imagine it is the hardest thing for a mother to hear that her child may have been abused. The hardest part, it seems to me, is when it comes out that you may have failed as a parent.”
Guardian ad litem’s evidence
The child’s GAL gave evidence that she had a master’s degree in child protection and had previously worked as a social work team leader. She was currently receiving training in attachment. She told the court that women who sexually abuse children generally abuse their own children when they are very young and abuse them for a very long time. Some engage in it initially to please their partners and some go on to abuse them without their partners and gain satisfaction just like men.
She said she found the child’s disclosures to be spontaneous and credible. Looking at the disclosures in the context of what was known about her father’s conversations in the chat room and his preference for babies, what the child disclosed would seem to describe a paedophile engaged in activities with a young child. The description of the child lying on the bed and touching herself and saying her daddy and mammy showed her how to do it and her descriptions of her father taking pictures of her – “that described sexual abuse.” Asked by her solicitor if she accepted that the father had sexually abused his daughter she said: “Yes, I do.”
She referred to the earlier evidence of the child being cheerful and smiling when the gardai were searching the house. “She was not at all upset by the guards searching the house. She didn’t seek the proximity of her mother. For me that’s very stark … She should have been upset and crying but she wasn’t, she was cheerful. She didn’t see her mother as a protector.”
The GAL was asked about the parents’ interaction with medical professionals and the number of missed medical appointments. “Why move to such an isolated area with such a sick child?” she asked. She said a considerable number of appointments had been missed and there was at other times a relationship that was undermining of the medical profession. The parents were trying to control the situation and they knew better.
“What was going on here?” she asked. “This is not a dynamic that parents with very sick children usually take up. It’s unusual. It struck me as a power control issue where [the child’s] needs were not met as much as they should be.”
Asked about the child’s weight loss while in the parents’ care, she said: “There are aspects of this case that are very upsetting. In the context of the chat log, we have a child who is very small, whose weight is constantly falling and they (the medical professionals) are struggling to engage with the parents regarding her eating. Was she being kept deliberately small and baby-like?” She said that there was a premium within this area of child pornography. “It did raise questions for me and I wondered.”
The GAL said there had been a certain lack of concern about child protection issues by the early intervention medical team who should have intervened at an earlier stage when appointments were being missed and the child’s weight continued to fall. “Why it raises concerns for me is that her weight went up consistently after she went into care,” she said.
She said this was not just a case of the mother not seeing some covert signs that her husband was sexually abusing their daughter. “It’s much deeper and more dysfunctional than that. This failure to protect is in the context of wilfully not seeing the risk signs.” She agreed with the previous evidence of a psychologist that the mother had been groomed by her husband.
She was concerned that the mother had been reminding the child of her father at access visits by getting her to write “to daddy with love” on cards and getting her to kiss the page. “In the context of possible child sexual abuse by the father this was (the mother) actively bringing him into the dynamic of the visit and reminding her we are still here. This happened on a number of occasions.”
The GAL said the mother had not put any psychological distance between herself and her husband. She feared for the child because it seemed to her that the mother would like to get back with her husband. “She spoke about having a lovely life, even knowing about the chat rooms. She couldn’t bring herself to go there. I was disturbed for days, weeks and I still am.”
She said the mother’s reaction had been quite distant and quite cold and she was unable to empathise with her daughter. “That’s what makes her dangerous because she is meeting her own needs and not her daughter’s.” She said the mother was not listening to the warnings about the risks posed by her husband because she was protecting the relationship.
Asked by her solicitor about the role of the CFA in providing help for the mother, she said the mother had not engaged with the HSE/CFA and the CFA had been sceptical that she had ended her relationship with her husband. “To have offered therapy in that situation would have been dangerous. She could have pretended to comply.” There needed to be an indication from her that she understood the risk the father posed but she was not prepared to take that first step. “I don’t think she would report him if he breached a barring order,” she said. Three social workers had spoken to her at length on a number of occasions about the concerns and the risks and they had little or no impact on her. “I don’t think she wants to hear.”
Judge orders further assessment
Having heard all of the evidence as well as oral and written legal submissions from all the parties’ legal representatives, the case was adjourned to a date for final judgment. However, on that date, the judge said he was unable to make a final decision and he ordered an independent report and forensic assessment from a psychologist “having expertise and experience dealing with children, in respect of the child, having regard to the ‘disclosures’ made by the child to the foster mother relating to the First and Second named Respondents (the parents).”
He ordered that the psychologist should advise as to what significance the court should attach, if any, to these disclosures “having regard to the age of the child and to advise, if necessary, as to what therapeutic supports or interventions would need to be put in place for the child.”
The case had been heard over 20 days, extended over more than a three-month period, and the judge described it as “a very complex case involving serious matters including allegations of the most serious nature. Some of the evidence heard was most disturbing and upsetting,” he said.
The judge ordered the CFA to arrange and offer the mother a programme of work that would look specifically at helping her to develop a better understanding of child sexual offenders, the long and short term effects of harmful sexual behaviour and safeguarding children in future. He encouraged the mother to avail of the programme as “this direction is made having regard to the care and custody of the child to promote the optimal relationship between her and the child.”
He directed that the mother should continue to have access with her daughter once a month and that the CFA should explore the possibility of alternative venues for the access in consultation with the guardian ad litem. Any notes or minutes prepared by the CFA regarding events during access were to be furnished to the GAL and the mother by email and any issues regarding the accuracy of the notes or minutes was to be raised with the CFA within seven days of receipt of the email.
The Court also directed the CFA to carry out the process of matching and approval of the current foster carer for long term placement with immediate effect.
A date for the conclusion of the proceedings would be fixed once the psychologist’s report was received and circulated.
The judge said he was minded of the advice given by Mr Jaggers to Pip in Great Expectations: “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”