(This case was added to the final volume of 2016 in February 2017, following court directions on the manner in which it could be published. It therefore belongs in Volume 1 of 2017, so we are re-publishing it here)
The District court made a full Care Order until the age of 18 for a child (A) who had made allegations of sexual abuse against multiple perpetrators in circumstances involving her mother over a number of years. She had also made allegations of being drugged before the abuse took place. There were further allegations of being asked many times by her mother to pose naked while photos were taken of her and that subsequently these photos were shown to the men before they abused her. The child also made allegations of physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.
At the time of the hearing, the child had been in the care of the state for just over three years. The issue of whether the child should come to court in order to give evidence, under section 23 of the Children Act 1997, was dealt with at the outset.
The mother, who did not consent to the Care Order, attended the hearing which lasted 14 days in total, spread over seven months. In evidence, she maintained that her child was lying and told the court she could “guarantee one hundred per cent” that her child had not been sexually abused but could offer no explanation for the level of detail in her child’s evidence.
Issues relating to the interviewing technique of the Garda child specialist interviewer were heard, as well as concerns regarding the lengthy periods spent interviewing the child. Six interviews were carried out in total by the Garda child specialist interviewer, with two interviews taking place on each day with an hour or less between each interview. Some of the interviews were up to one hour and twenty minutes in duration. These interviews were forensic in nature and did not form part of a credibility assessment.
A forensic clinic psychologist described parts of the Garda child specialist interview process as “abusive” and “relentless”. The quality of the interviewer’s training was questioned as well as the lack of on-going training.
Three interviews were also carried out by a child sexual abuse therapy unit (the unit), the first of which involved a credibility assessment. However, the unit failed to complete their assessment due to a disruption in the interview process when the CFA (then HSE) decided that the Garda child specialist interviews should commence instead, thereby preventing the completion of the credibility assessment due to take place two weeks later.
The Gardaí and the child sexual abuse therapy unit did not liaise with one another during any of their respective interviews in order to form a multi-disciplinary approach. This resulted in a total of 11 interviews being carried out between the two teams, including two clarification interviews by the Gardaí. By the time the child returned to the child sexual abuse therapy unit it was concluded that she had already been through a lengthy interview process and the credibility assessment was not pursued, though further interviews did take place.
The forensic clinic psychologist, who had been asked to review the interviews in order to form a credibility assessment, told the court that the child had been over-extended by the Garda child specialist interviewer who had pressed her for details that had undermined the veracity of her evidence. However this had not taken away from the credibility of her statements and it was clearly a credible account.
In evidence he told the court that it did not surprise him that a prosecution for child sexual abuse was not going ahead because the veracity of the child’s evidence had been undermined by asking her to recall inappropriately specific details from when she was very young, that were not within her ability.
Section 23 application
Dealing with the application for the child to give evidence under Section 23 of the Children Act 1997, the first witness was the social worker who described the child as a “smart, keen student with a keen interest in reading.” Referring to the effect coming to court to give evidence would have on the child she said she had “the cognitive ability to give evidence but that it would be detrimental to the welfare of the child if she were to give evidence in court or via video link.”
She explained that over the last three years the child had been making allegations and sharing information with her foster carers. She had disclosed information with people with whom she felt safe. Since the child had been in foster care she was “displaying coping mechanisms, however, when stressed she regressed to self-harm such as pulling clumps of her hair.” She had nightmares, was bed wetting and soiling herself. There was one occasion on which she self-harmed in response to stress, in particular in relation to placement movement.
The social worker explained that the child “struggled emotionally and displayed compulsive behaviour.” There was another incident during an access visit where the child’s mother threatened her. When the visit concluded, the child rubbed her knuckles until they bled. The social worker concluded that the child did not have “the appropriate mechanisms to manage stress.” She described the child as “emotionally vulnerable.”
At the moment the child was stable. She had engaged with a therapist and began therapy more than a year after entering care, but the child said that therapy was traumatising and she found it “too difficult.”
In cross-examination by the mother’s counsel, the social worker said that the child attended a sexual assault treatment unit and she made disclosures while attending. A meeting was called and a decision was made that the child would be interviewed by a Child Specialist Garda. The interviews with the Child Specialist Garda lasted six hours.
Counsel for the mother stated that if a criminal prosecution were to go ahead, the child would then have to come to court to be cross-examined and it would be open to the prosecution to tender evidence from the child. The social worker was asked if she was aware of the safeguards in place to allow the child to give evidence. She agreed that there were safeguards in place such as allowing the child to give evidence via video link and also questions which could be agreed and answered by an intermediary. She insisted that it would be “detrimental to [the child’s] emotional welfare” to give evidence in this case.
Counsel for the mother stated that the mother understood that it was hard for the child to give evidence but it would be difficult for the mother to be vindicated without such evidence. The counsel said that the child had to undergo Garda interviews and that it appeared that insufficient consideration had been given to other ways in which evidence could be tendered.
The social worker said that the mother was not present at the Garda interviews and that the child did not have the “emotional maturity to manage should she have to come to court and knowing that the decisions were to be made solely on her evidence.” She said that the child was “aware of the application for a care order and was further aware that statements were to be used as evidence.”
The child was aware that a number of professionals were coming to court in relation to the matter. She had shared information with them and the “responsibility was on those professionals coming to court.”
The solicitor for the GAL asked the social worker if the mother ever threatened the child during access. The social worker replied that the child wrote a letter to her mother and during access she showed the letter to her mother. The mother became angry and warned the child “do not write about my drinking again or you’ll see what’ll happen.” The social worker also said that the mother told the child to say there were no problems at home if she were asked. There was another occasion on which the child’s brother had visited and told her to say that “everything was ok if she were asked.”
The GAL told the court that the child “had been able to give a good account for her emotions and she would have the cognitive ability to give evidence.” However, she shared the views of the social worker that it would be “detrimental to her welfare” if she were to come to court. The child had endured traumatic experiences prior to care. She experienced many changes, different placements and schools and was interviewed by Gardaí. The GAL stated that “it would be too much for her to come to court with her mother there.” She added that the child “would experience trauma if she were to give her evidence via video link as her mother would be listening.”
The GAL said that the child was at the early stages of re-establishing the relationship with her mother. Access ceased at the request of the child as she was “scared of her mother and upset by the things her mother did to her.” At a later stage the child asked for access to be reinstated. During this period the child was happy to see her mother and have access increased.
The GAL was asked if the mother called the child a liar. She stated that later on that year the mother said that the child was a liar and that the child needed to “come to court and tell the truth as everything she is saying is lies.” The child was not aware that her mother called her a liar but she was aware that her mother didn’t believe her.
The GAL explained that she was “extremely worried” and there was a high risk of the child returning to self-harming behaviour if she were to give evidence. The child described the GAL as her “microphone in court” and her “bigger self.” The child understood that the GAL voiced her wishes and feelings to the court and she was aware of the court making decisions.
The child was happy to write a letter to the court expressing her feelings about what she wanted to happen in the future. They agreed she would write a letter and complete a report and that the GAL would show her the report to proof-read her wishes.
In the report the child said that she would like the mother to talk to her more and she indicated that she wanted to stay with her foster parents. She wanted to talk about access and said that her “mother was angry that I told and doesn’t believe me and I don’t want to live with my mother.” She discussed different forms of therapy, school activities, sport, placements, access and what she wants to improve. The GAL stated that “this led on to the letter.” In her own writing she wrote: “I want to stay with foster parents. I love them and they treat me well. I don’t want to live with my mother, she treated me badly. I love and adore my placement.”
The child completed the drawing of the ladder as it was an exercise that she connected with and with which she described her feelings. She also focused on access and gave scores out of ten. She gave nine for access and took one mark away as her mother talks to the social worker more than her. The child wrote: “I don’t think mum believes me, she is angry I told. Mum will say the abuse didn’t happen and I know the truth.” The child did not want to write this down but she wanted to sign it.
The GAL said the child “is not ready to sit with her mother and go through this. She is scared of her mother and this is clear as access should be supervised and if not supervised her mother would hurt her. She wouldn’t feel free to speak in court with the mother present.”
Under cross-examination by counsel for the mother, the GAL stated that it would not be appropriate for the child to give evidence via video link as “her mother would listen and put the child under pressure.” The child was “not at a point that she could give evidence via video link. She is in the early stages of knowing that her mother doesn’t believe her.” The child had only previously made disclosures in what she deemed a safe environment.
Asked whether the child could be asked questions through an intermediary, the GAL explained that the child needed this to happen in a therapeutic environment and the child didn’t have such therapeutic support. Based on her knowledge of the child, she was not ready to take that step. It was put to the GAL if the child was ever asked if she wished to come to court. The GAL responded: “I asked her if she wants to meet the judge and she said no.”
The GAL’s own solicitor said: “You met the mother and she is adamant that the child should speak to the court. Why does she want that?” The GAL responded that she wanted the child to “tell the truth and stop the lies.” The mother stated that the child is “telling lies and she won’t tell lies when I am sitting there, she has to tell the truth. I can’t go to prison.”
Asked how it would affect the child if she realised her mother was saying she was lying, the GAL replied: “It would be detrimental. The child didn’t want to see the mother for two years and she had clear reasons. She wants to meet her mother and it’s in its infancy at this stage. It could fracture that [relationship] irreparably if she is told she is a liar.”
The court was told that gifts for the child had been increasing in number and value during the access visits. Since access was reinstated the child has received clothes, a coat, two dresses, boots, shoes, sweets, gifts etc. The child was overwhelmed. Her Christmas gifts were substantial.
It was clear that the increase in gifts coincided with the impending criminal prosecution and the care order application. Asked if the child had ever indicated that she said things she shouldn’t have, the GAL replied that the child “never indicated that she wanted to retract anything.”
The judge asked if giving evidence would affect the child’s relationship with her mother. The GAL said it would. The child was in her third placement and it was soon coming up to the anniversary of her placement which always created anxiety for the child. The child was described as “comfortable in her placement and thriving.” She felt her mother didn’t believe her, neglected her and did bad things to her. The child didn’t want to go back to her mother.
The judge ruled on the preliminary point: “Based on evidence of the GAL and social worker the child is competent. The professionals are of the view that it would be detrimental to her welfare and relationship with her mother to give evidence in person or by video link. The GAL and social worker gave opinions that it would be detrimental at this point in time.
“By virtue of the evidence my determination is that the child is not required to give oral evidence. This determination established the possibility that hearsay will be admitted. There is a duty to conduct a fair hearing. It remains necessary for hearsay to be adduced and for the court to make further inquiries pursuant to part 3 Children Act 1997.”
Foster Carer evidence
The child’s former foster carer explained that the child had been with her for one year and described her as “lovely, happy, and friendly.” The child was “clingy and looked for attention.” She fitted in well with the family. The foster carer stated that the child found it difficult making friends and was bullied at school but was moved to another school.
She struggled with cleanliness, “it wasn’t top of her agenda. She would have a laugh that she didn’t wash her hands after the toilet. She soiled her pants and didn’t use toilet paper. She never asked for a shower.” She had lice when she arrived which took seven weeks to treat.
She said the child was a “chatter box” and was telling her stories of when she lived at home. She explained that sometimes the child would shut down, but most of the time she spoke. The foster carer took a note of the things she said as “a lot of the stuff she spoke of was very serious.” She said she had to do her job as a foster carer and pass the information to the social worker.
When the child first spoke, it was in her bedroom at night and she was upset and anxious. The foster carer explained to the child “what you are saying is serious and I need to take down what you are saying” in order to get help and support her. She stated that the child spent time crying and panicking when she spoke. The foster carer said that she would “mind her, hug her and tell her it was ok.”
She said at the time the child was telling her these things she was able to write them down and that they were all true accounts. She said: “If I broke down, the child wouldn’t be able to continue telling me. I broke down afterwards and I had to be strong for the child. Everything is the child’s words.” The child spoke of home, her mother, men at home, her brother and school. She said that when the child saw her foster family she said: “I didn’t know how a family was supposed to be.”
The child described her life as “frightening” and said she was scared of her mother. she described her mother as a “bad woman”. The child stated that she got on with her brother but as time went on she became frightened of him. He made her do things and oftentimes he used a knife to threaten her.
The child described how she would have to run around naked and the mother would laugh and say “look what your brother made you do.” She never spoke of her mother in positive terms. The foster carer stated that the mother would keep the child out late at night and there was never much food in the house. The child explained to the foster carer that her mother spent most of her money on alcohol and got her clothes from charity shops. She hit the child and often brought her to different houses.
The child said her mother brought her to one man’s house in which the man and mother were drinking. Her mother said “it is late now and you must go to bed.” The three of them were in the same bed with the child in the middle. The child described on another occasion that she was taken to a park by her mother and two men. They were all drinking. One man took her to pond to throw pebbles and gave her two Euros and told her she was a “good girl”.
The foster carer maintained that the child came back to the same story on another date. She said she was taken to the man’s house and her mother was supposed to come back but didn’t. The child slept at the man’s house. The following morning the man made her breakfast, brought her to the Post Office and Burger King and then took her back to his house. The man made her dinner and at 9 o’ clock that evening her mother returned.
The child said she was not tired, but she went to bed. The man and her mother also got into the bed with her. The foster carer was asked to describe the child when she made these disclosures. She said that the child was “in panic and was tense” and she “had a lot on her mind, and was upset, frightened and worried. She didn’t know what would happen.” The child started to hurt herself and would stick the nib of a pencil into her hand.
The foster carer said that the child was frightened of her mother and the men “that they’d do that again to her.” She was afraid of her brother and said that she didn’t “want that to happen to her again.”
The foster carer outlined an incident which happened in a shopping centre on which the child became very upset. She remarked that she felt faint and described how she had had a nightmare in which a man was coming down the escalator in the shopping centre. In the nightmare he leaned over and said “you’ve told on me and I’ll kill you.” The child was afraid she would see the men. On another occasion in the shopping centre she saw the interpreter who had been at access with her mother. The child panicked and said: “I’m afraid if she sees me she’ll tell mum.”
Asked why the placement had ceased the foster carer stated that the child moved to another placement as the foster family would not have been able to bring the child to the therapies she needed. The foster carer stated that she “would have looked for support and kept going but the social worker stepped in and maintained that the best thing was for the child to go to a placement to have attention and parents who could bring her to therapy.”
Counsel for the mother put it to the foster carer that “when the child spoke about things, you wrote them down. During the first disclosure you indicated that you didn’t write that down that night.” The foster carer replied: “No, I generally listen to what the child says at the start. When things are serious, I have to be on the ball.”
Counsel stated that the statements were “very detailed and lengthy,” and asked how the foster carer was able to write down everything verbatim. The foster carer explained that she could have been in the child’s bedroom for two hours at night. They had a very good relationship and trusted each other. She explained: “I wrote everything down, we didn’t rush. The child was too upset and emotional. There is no doubt in my mind that everything is the child’s words.”
She said that she contacted the social worker regarding the seriousness of the disclosures made by the child, adding that she was the child’s “first port of call.” Counsel for the mother put it to the foster carer that the mother was upset as she didn’t understand why the child said these things. “The mother will say that these things did not happen.”
The foster carer was asked if she recalled at a later stage that the child made a complaint about her placement. The foster carer said that a complaint had been made by the child of “not getting McDonalds” and she alleged that she got no breakfast or dinner on one occasion. The child had alleged that on another date she was told “to go to bed and strip and if she cried she was to go to the green.”
The foster carer said that many of the child’s allegations were false apart from one regarding soap. She gave the child soap for school. The child threw the soap into the park when she got off the school bus. The foster carer stated that later that evening she was joking with the child and said there was an article in the news that a man was hit by a bar of soap in the head. It was concluded that the complaint was not taken any further.
Child specialist Garda
The child specialist Garda gave evidence regarding the process of interviewing the child. She explained that, in accordance with section 16 (1) (b) of the Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, specialist victim interviews were conducted in circumstances where a child made a disclosure of sexual or physical abuse.
In this case the Garda went to the child’s foster placement and met the child. They began talking. The Garda said that the child was nervous. During the meeting she gave accounts of neglect and abuse, both sexual and physical. The Garda explained: “She was able to talk and when asked to speak about the incidents, she gave a lot of information which meant she was ready to be interviewed.”
She said: “She didn’t get distressed during clarification. In many cases children cannot make eye contact which means that they are not ready to be interviewed. At that stage we concluded the child was ready to be interviewed on camera.” The Garda described it as a unique case in that the child would have to undergo many interviews due to the number of allegations and suspects.
It was decided that another Garda would be present during the interviews in order to ensure that the child’s welfare was not compromised. Before the interview a template was prepared and the proofs for the offences were incorporated into the plan for the interview.
The Garda described the child as “very bright and able to have a conversation.” She had strong cognitive abilities. The Garda explained that “every child must be comfortable in order to disclose allegations. Some questions are hard, we are there for criminal prosecution and we must put the child the ease. We stick to a model of questioning known as the funnel system. We don’t ask leading questions.”
She said: “Some of the questions were complex but were not beyond the child’s cognitive ability. It was important to build a picture of suspects and the timeline as to when the abuse occurred. There were certain things she remembered, given the way she was talking, if she did remember she would be able to articulate it.” The first interview lasted over an hour.
The Garda said: “I agree that best practice would have been a shorter interview but there was no evidence of fatigue. We thought it better to focus on physical allegations and then sexual. If she became upset we would stop it.” The Garda explained that when the child spoke of the abuse her “manner and demeanour would become upset.”
The second and third interviews took place shortly after the first. The Garda explained that “we didn’t want to prolong it for the child. The social worker was present and took the child for lunch and asked her if she was able to continue. If it was apparent she was tired we would stop it.” There was a lot of evidence therefore they decided to keep the interview going that day. The Garda agreed that it was in the child’s best interest to continue.
During the interviews the child’s narrative was free flowing and her evidence was reliable. She took her time. The Garda said that the “exact timeline was never going to be established with regards to the abuse. It was impossible to get exact dates.” At certain points in the interview the child was asked to repeat distressing things.
The Garda explained that “it is not our intention to distress a child but we have to ask certain question at times. We would cut the interview for welfare purposes. We believe that every question has a forensic advantage. If the child didn’t know a word, she described it to the best of her ability.” The child was only asked once if she were able to continue with the interview. The Garda explained that “at that stage I saw she was becoming tired. I was aware that it was a long time, it was hard for me too.”
The fourth interview followed shortly after the third interview. Again the interviewers had decided to continue that day as they didn’t feel that the child was tired. There was no evidence to suggest that she was distressed. The Garda said that she noticed a shift in the child’s demeanour when they reverted back to discussing everyday topics.
Following the fourth interview the social worker contacted the Garda and said the child had made a number of further disclosures of sexual abuse. The Gardai called to the foster carer’s house and met with the child. The child indicated that she wanted to talk and gave a large amount of detail regarding the abuse. The Garda decided to interview the child on camera due to the seriousness of the disclosures.
Once again she described the conversation as “free flowing” but noted that the child was somewhat anxious. The child had certain things she wanted to talk about. The Garda said that that the child’s presentation was different during the interview as she was “calm and matter of fact.” She attributed this to the fact that the child was used to the layout of the interview. She was more comfortable talking about the incidents. On this occasion she spoke of sexual abuse, the production of drugs and pornography.
The sixth interview was brief. There was acute distress exhibited by the child in the account of abuse by one man. The Garda said that the child was able to recall specific incidents in all interviews. She noted that her presentation was “different in the fifth and sixth interviews but nothing stood out.” The Garda said that “certain things were consistent and certain things were not” but she concluded that the interviews did not have an adverse effect on the child’s well-being.
Primary school teacher
A primary school teacher who had taught the child told the court that in the year prior to going into care A had missed 35 days of school which had impeded her progress. Although this was reported to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) they did not “get back to them.” In her opinion, this was because the NEWB was understaffed.
The teacher recalled the child being very upset in school one day because her mother had not returned home the previous night. She also recalled that on one occasion she had come to school with only a pack of digestives and tomatoes. She was then absent for the month of December apart from two days with no reason being given for her absence. Homework appeared to be unsupervised. On one occasion A came into school with a homemade bandage and said her friend’s dog had bitten her but she had not been to the doctor. The teacher told her to tell her mum she had to get a tetanus shot.
When she returned to school after the long absence in December she was in care and her school attendance from then onwards was excellent. The following year she made disclosures to her teacher and notes were taken immediately afterwards (these formed part of the Section 23 hearsay application).
The barrister for the mother told the court that it was the mother’s position that she had come home on that night in question and had not left A alone. Regarding the digestives and tomatoes, she had offered to make a lunch for A but she had said no. In relation to the bandage, the child had not needed to see a doctor as it was only a small mark.
The psychotherapist who had carried out eight play therapy sessions with A after she had gone into care told the court that A had been having nightmares. She had dreams of “a hand coming up while sleeping in her bed and sticking a knife in her, she has fears of being kidnapped by friends of her mother’s.”
She said that A had hurt herself to let her anger out by sticking a pencil into her hand and hurting her finger with a pencil sharpener. A had stated she needed a lot of help with her feelings and was feeling a lot of anger because her mother had said it was her own fault that she was in care.
The psychotherapist recommended that A engage in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and that play therapy sessions continue and her family work with her to build strength in the relationship.
A neighbour gave evidence regarding the circumstances under which A had spent one night in her house after A’s mother had allegedly left her home alone for three days locked into the house.
The court heard that initially A’s mother had been a nice neighbour and they had got along and gone shopping together, this had continued for a number of years until “she got into some trouble with drink, things got worse, she would be hung-over, smell of drink, she didn’t seem to look after herself.”
The neighbour noticed that A did not look her usual self. “She was looking really pale and had shadows under her eyes, she didn’t look happy.” The child also stopped playing out on the road, she told the court. The neighbour noticed that A had stopped going to school and she became concerned when it became obvious that the mother was having “troubles with drink”.
One evening another neighbour told her that A had been locked in the house for three days and three nights, so she rang the mother but could not make contact. When she rang the house phone A answered and said her mother was there, although in fact she was alone. The neighbour told the court that her boyfriend at that time went over to A’s house and got her out, when she arrived over her clothes were dirty, she was dirty and so was her hair. “She ate a lot and really fast as if starved.” She noticed that A had a “fresh bruise on the top of her head, bleeding a bit but didn’t look like it needed medical attention.” The child told her that she had got the bruise playing with a friend that day.
That night when A was asleep after her shower, her mother rang and accused the neighbour of kidnapping her daughter. She was drunk and angry and said she wanted to ring the Gardaí. The child was put on the phone and told her mother that she wanted to stay the night at her neighbour’s.
The next day her mother apologised for her behaviour and said that she would bring her daughter to school, however after she collected her they went home. When the neighbour realised this she rang the mother who told her that A was tired and wanted the day off school, she told her to leave them alone and hung up.
“She looked completely neglected. I never seen anything like this before,” said the neighbour. “I saw that something’s not right. I don’t know how long she stayed at home alone but it was clear she did not eat for a long time, she looked really dirty. It was clear that somebody needs to step in and sort this family out.” So she rang the school principal about what had happened and she had not seen A since then.
The barrister for the mother told the court that it was the mother’s position that A was only left alone in the house for a few hours and she had spent so much time out of school that month because she had head lice. She accepted that she had had a couple of drinks that night.
“She was really drunk,” the neighbour told the court. “She could hardly speak, she was very badly slurred and not making sense, she wasn’t making normal sentences. She was crying, screaming, rambling and very hard to understand.” She had asked the child how long she’d been left alone in the house and was given a vague answer of “I’ve been alone for a while”.
The dirt on her clothes was not something she could have got from a few hours, “her clothes were worn and stained, her skin was dirty, she smelled like an unwashed person. You can’t get that over a few hours.”
Garda who executed the Section 12
A Garda told the court that he had arrived to the mother’s house one evening at 6.30 pm. “On arrival there was smashed glass on the ground in the kitchen, dirty clothes were strewn across the floor, the dishes were not washed and stockpiled in the sink, there was no heating in the house.”
He said the mother was extremely drunk, she was staggering and her speech was slurred. He described a lot of clutter in the kitchen, hall and sitting room involving half sheets of timber, doors and cabinets. He could not move in the sitting room due to the amount of clutter and there was just one chair to sit on in the kitchen. There was rubbish strewn on the kitchen floor and the bins were overflowing. “The house was filthy throughout.” He spent an hour in the house before invoking Section 12 by which time he believed there was an immediate and serious risk to the child. He had fears of the mother’s capability of looking after the child, she was very drunk.
When he arrived to the house initially, the child had gone upstairs with the two social workers who had accompanied him there. The Guard got an overall understanding of the situation through dealing with the mother and got the proofs required.
The barrister for the mother told the court that while the mother accepted she had drink taken she did not accept that she had been extremely intoxicated.
“She was swaying,” the Garda told the court. “She was falling from side to side, her speech was very slurred and she was putting her head down like she was beginning to go to sleep.”
“The mother says her level of English is so bad that she found it difficult to understand his concerns,” said her barrister. “Things were getting lost in translation and she didn’t fully understand the specifics of the concerns.”
The Garda told the court that he would not have left the house or taken the child into care unless the mother had been fully aware of what was happening. From her answers to him, she had been aware. “She was trying to say she was washing stuff, trying to prove the fact there was no need to take the child.”
“You described the house as filthy throughout,” said the CFA barrister, “did it look like housework had got on top of the mother in the past week?”
“I’ve been to a number of houses throughout my 11 years, I’ve never seen anything to this degree,” replied the Garda.
“Do you think you could confuse intoxication and broken English?” asked the CFA barrister.
“No, I didn’t have concerns that the mother wasn’t interpreting what I was saying, the difficulty was intoxication.”
The immediate and serious risk to the child was not just due to the intoxication, said the Garda, it was everything else as well.
Social worker from sex abuse unit
The social worker from the unit providing an assessment and therapy service for child sexual abuse gave evidence in court that she had commenced the assessment process of the child with her colleague by carrying out the first interview.
She told the court that the unit had received the referral from the social work department eight months after the child had entered care. She herself had first started to work in the unit around this time and had finished her training there six months later.
She met with the child for the first interview in early September. This interview was to form part of the credibility assessment and a subsequent interview was planned for the following week. However this process was put on hold by the CFA so the child could give statements to the Gardaí.
Between the unit receiving the referral and beginning their first interview with the child, she had made further disclosures to her foster carer. A strategy meeting was held on the same day as the child’s first interview in the unit, was attended by the CFA and the child’s guardian ad litem (GAL). It was decided during the strategy meeting that rather than complete her assessment process in the unit that the child would give statements to the Gardaí and the assessment process would be put on hold. The unit was informed of the meeting after it had taken place.
The social worker told the court that the unit refers to their process as “a credibility assessment and an assessment of therapeutic needs”. This would take place over a series of interviews, usually three, while the Gardaí child specialist interview process was a forensic process.
As the process with the unit had commenced, they felt that their assessment should be completed before the forensic stage of the investigation began with the Gardaí. However the CFA and the GAL had felt it was in the child’s best interest to progress with the Garda interview and the assessment was stopped.
The child was interviewed four times by the Garda specialist interviewer and then there were further allegations in mid-October.
The unit was contacted regarding the further allegations. The unit’s social worker told the court that she began to query whether it would be possible to have a coordinated approach rather than two different processes. “The information received from them could be used for a dual purpose, my colleague is a trained Garda specialist interviewer. We were exploring at the time combining the processes which would have been more helpful to [the child].”
The unit decided to explore this at a planned strategy meeting with the CFA, the GAL and the Gardaí. However at the meeting they discovered that the child had already done the further interviews with the Gardaí (which now amounted to six in total).
It was also agreed at the strategy meeting that repeated interviewing of children could
generate unreliable information and was contra-indicated in terms of a child’s mental health. So the unit decided to look at the Garda specialist interviews rather than recommence their assessment process. It was from looking at the Garda DVD interviews and her own original interview in the assessment process that the social worker from the unit was to make her credibility assessment of the allegations.
Any further interviews done by the unit would be in order to explore the child’s therapeutic needs, the unit’s social worker told the court.
However it then emerged in cross examination that the unit was still looking at both the credibility and therapeutic needs in their second interview of the child in November 2013. The child, however, was not informed of this. Although the social worker did write a credibility report she did not make a finding.
“You have found her reports do seem to have merit, it remains your position on the basis of the interviews that you don’t believe it’s safe to offer an opinion on the range of abuse or identity of abusers,” pointed out the judge.
“Correct,” replied the unit’s social worker.
It was the social worker’s position that the child presented differently in her subsequent interviews at the unit after she had completed the six interviews with the Garda child specialist interviewer. “She presented differently,” said the social worker, “she didn’t display any significant levels of distress, while [during their first interview] she was quite upset at times.”
Her conclusion was that a child of her age was unlikely to be able to describe the type of abuse she had described unless she had witnessed it. The sensorial descriptions such as pain and the level of distress in the first interview gave a presentation congruent with talking about an abusive experience. The child had been consistent about the process, in her core account she had been sexually abused, according to the unit’s social worker.
The foster mother had also told the unit’s social worker that the child had been physically shaking and tearful when making the disclosures to her. However there was a noted difference in the child’s affect (expression) in her statements to the Gardaí, said the social worker. There was a difference in “congruent affect” (consistency of expression and response with feelings about and reaction to disclosures) and they were concerned as to why there was that change.
It was further noted there were striking similarities in the interviews in that the child was using similar words or phrases to describe a number of different incidents with different
individuals. In her report, the unit’s social worker had written that: “Despite the fact the core aspects appeared to have merit, the extent and range was unclear and the identity of abuser or abusers [was unclear].”
After the Garda interviews, the CFA social workers might be able to satisfy themselves as to credibility and not need us to continue, said the unit’s social worker. However the HSE [now CFA] did re-refer to the unit, “they needed [the unit] to assess credibility and therapeutic needs. At this point credibility had not been established.
“We made a finding that her accounts have merit to the core account and we couldn’t make any assessment as to credibility as to who was involved including whether the mother was involved,” the unit social worker told the court.
After viewing the second interview done by the Garda child specialist interviewer, the unit’s social worker had written in her report that that she had noted the child’s demeanour was “remarkable in showing no signs of upset or distress”.
She told the judge: “I noted it was in contrast with [the child’s demeanour] when I met her in the beginning of September, there was a level of distress then when talking about similar reports.”
“What inference do you draw from it?” the judge asked her.
“We were concerned about the impact the interviewing process was having on her, she was becoming more matter of fact, in our experience they do or can present as distressed or tearful, their presentation can be of note.”
Judge: “You put in here: ‘She was showing no signs of upset or distress,’ do you draw an inference?”
Unit social worker: “Not in itself, it is a factor to consider in determining credibility.”
Judge: “Did you draw a conclusion, what did you decide?”
Unit social worker: “That her affect in her first interview was congruent and added to credibility, that her account has merit and we were concerned as to how her affect changed in the process.”
The judge then decided that all of the DVD Garda child specialist interviews would be watched in court as well as the unit’s interviews which were also on DVD before resuming the evidence of the unit’s social worker.
DVD interviews, shown in chronological order:
DVD 1: Interview one with the senior social worker from the unit
This interview was carried out in a room within the unit. At the start of the interview the social worker told the child that the most important thing to remember was that it was a safe room and to tell the truth. She discussed the difference between truth and lies with her and they had a chat about the book that the child was currently reading as well as what music she liked to listen to, this was part of the rapport building phase, then the session commenced.
She asked A about her family life. “I don’t really have a Dad,” replies the child, “he never cared for me. I only saw him once when I was a baby.”
The child describes her mum as “very rough, very angry as well, she’s tall, she has lots of anger in her. She’s very angry. Sometimes she would bang the table, the glasses might fall off. She’d be very rough. She’d hurt the dog, she’d hurt my brother, she hit me with belts, she kicked me, she punched me, she usually left marks. She had this friend called [X], they always drank together.”
She describes how her mother sometimes grabbed her hair from behind by her plait and pulled her so hard she fell to the ground, she said she would start crying but her mother would say: “Stop crying, stop crying.”
The child tells the social worker about being hit with belts. These belts were in the kitchen, hanging on a nail in the wall. Her mother had told her that when she was little that her father had hung a belt up on a nail in the wall, “if she was ever bold she’d get hit with it. My Mam put a nail on the wall and she put [the belt] up.”
A tells the social worker how she had brought the dog in to play one time and that he had bitten her mum, so the dog was put back out and her mother took the belt off the wall and hit her on the back of the leg. “It was a leather belt, it was white with triangle holes in it, a tiny green leather belt went through the holes.”
“Which part of the belt did she hit you with?” the unit’s social worker asks.
“The metal part, she’d hit me lots of times, there’s sometimes big bruises.”
“The last time how many times did she hit you?”
“About nine or ten times,” explains the child.
“How did it feel afterwards?”
“Weak and bruised, it was a greenish colour, mixed with yellow.” She says that this incident happened about a week before she went into care.
The child describes where the nail was on the kitchen wall, beside a picture. “She put nearly all of her belts there so she can choose which one.”
“Tell me about another time your Mam did it,” asks the unit social worker.
A describes how her mother had been drinking at X’s house, “loads of cans of beer and cider. We were going home. When we were halfway home, she was wearing her jeans, she took off her belt and started hitting me, we were in the middle of a big field.”
“You said that your Mam had been drinking beer and cider that night with [X], what was she like?”
“She could barely walk,” replies the child. She describes how she started to scream when she began to hit her. “The belt was made out of leather, there were little studs on it too, my Mam hit me with the studs end, she hit me on my back.”
“How did that feel?” asks the unit social worker.
“How many times did she hit you?”
“I’d say 14.”
The unit social worker asks the child if she noticed anything different about her back after that.
“Yeah, there was a big lump there and I couldn’t sleep on it. There were these marks on my back from the studs, it was all red. One of the studs was very hard and it cut into my skin.”
“Do you remember what age you were?”
“I was still in [she named the school].” She thought it was a few days after she had started First Class. “It happened nearly every day I think, the belt and kicking and punching. She’d kick me in the back, on the leg and the arm. She’d sometimes kick me when she had shoes on, she’d leave a mark on my arm. It’d go very deep down, the mark, the mark would be red, when it goes in it would be a greenish colour,” said the child.
“When your mam kicked you would you be standing, sitting, lying?”
“Sometimes I’d be sitting.”
A then describes a particular incident to the unit social worker. She tells her how one night her mum’s friend [X] had stayed in her house, that [X] had slept in her mum’s bed and her daughters were staying too, so A had made a bed on the floor downstairs. She says that her mum came down and “kicked me with her shoes on, she even woke me up and all, I got a fright.”
“Did she say anything when she kicked you?”
“No.” This happened in the same week she was hit with the belt in the field.
The unit social worker asks the child what age she was when she could first remember being hit.
“The first time she punched me was a few days after my birthday when I turned three. She kicked me when I turned five. The first time she hit me was when I turned two. I remember I was a baby.”
She says her mum drank with her friend every day, first she would drink on her own and then in the evening time she would go to [X’s] house. She was scared about what could happen. Her foster mother was the first person that she had she told about it.
She still felt very scared about her mother. When she had been living at home her mother had threatened her saying: “You just wait. Someone will bring you up to the mountains, they’ll put you in a box and won’t let you out.” “I was very scared,” said A, “I ran upstairs to get away from her.”
Then A tells the unit social worker about a male friend of her mother’s, and how her mother had kicked and punched her in front of him and also hit her with a belt in front of him.
A describes what a slap is and what a punch is (closed fist).
One particular day when she was in Senior Infants her mum hit her about 10 times and kicked her leg.
“How did you feel after that?” asks the unit social worker.
“There was blood coming down on my head an’ all. You could see the lump an’ all, there was a lump coming up.” She says she couldn’t move her arm properly, and her arm still hurt. She said her thigh had hurt afterwards.
“How many times would she hit you like that in front of [the male friend]?”
“Most of the time,” answers the child.
“Is there anything else you want to tell me?” asks the unit social worker.
“She let men hurt me between my legs.” The child gets upset so they take a break from the interview and instead the child is asked to talk about the book she was currently reading.
Then the session ends.
DVD 1 – Garda Child Specialist Interview. 1 hour and seven minutes.
Each of these six interviews is carried out by the same person.
The first interview session with the unit took place in early September. The first Garda child specialist interview took place in early October with a delay of nearly five weeks between the unit first interviewing the child and the Gardaí first interviewing the child. The purpose of the Gardaí interviews was forensic [in order to mount a criminal prosecution] while the purpose of the unit’s interviews was for assessment of credibility and therapy.
In the DVD the female Garda spends time with the child discussing the difference between truth and lies and then there is a rapport building phase before the questioning begins within the interview. She also asks her for her consent for the DVD recording to be made so the judge can watch the interview. The child consents.
The child starts off by telling the Garda that her mother bought her clothes and belongings in car boot sales or charity shops.
The Garda moves to questions relating to the disclosures the child had made to the foster carer. She says her mother led men hurt her “between her legs”, five men and two boys were involved.
She described the first man [Person 1], his name, what country he was from, what age she thought he was and where he lived. He had been drinking with her mother and her mother and the man came into her room and he raped her. The girl was extremely upset and crying heavily in the interview as she described the rape in detail not using this word] to the Garda.
The Garda reminds the child that the judge will watch this DVD, so she asks her to explain what the man did to her. She describes how she was raped and the pain she suffered then and afterwards.
Her mum was at the door. “She was just looking.”
“Did your mum say anything?” asks the Garda. The child shakes her head.
The interview then moves on to questions about the next time the child was sexually abused. As it is a forensic interview the Garda child specialist interviewer asks for details. The child names the perpetrator [Person 2] and tells the interviewer that the abuse took place in his house.
She goes into a detailed account of what took place and includes a description of how her mother asked the man if he wanted her to take A’s clothes off and then she undressed her. “I was kicking him, my Mum was holding me by the legs.” The child got very upset during the interview.
The interview finishes at that point and recommences after lunch.
DVD 2, Interview 2, Garda child specialist interview. Length 1 hour 24 minutes.
The child’s account continues after the break.
The interviewer asked her what age she was, the child said she thought she was four. She was asked what the room had looked like and what clothes she had been wearing.
The child then describes what happened with the next man [Person 3]. On that occasion she was left home alone with the man and he would not let her come downstairs, she had to wait for him to come up if she wanted something to eat but he had not come up with food. The child recounts how he had arrived with beer and cider and had been drinking with her mother downstairs before her mother left the house. He then raped her. She described how frightened she was. She did not tell her mother.
“I was frightened of what he could do to me. If I told my Mam she’d just say no, you’re just making that up. She doesn’t believe me, she never does, she never believes anything I say.”
The child was unsure of the exact pronunciation of the name of the next perpetrator (she gave two names very similar in pronunciation) [Person 4], but she knew which country he was from.
[Person 4] was living in an apartment with another man and his girlfriend. She says she and her mother had stayed the night and again the mother had taken off her clothes and she was raped.She described falling back asleep after being raped. Again she described pain and bleeding and being very frightened.
[In a subsequent interview the child gave a description of being given injections and tablets before each time the abuse took place and how her mother had told her it was for pain and how she had fallen asleep each time after these injections.]
After this incident took place with the fourth perpetrator, the child recounted how three men came into the apartment and hit [Person 4] on the head and called the police.
DVD 3 – 11th October, 1 hour and 20 minutes.
In this interview, the child talks about the fifth alleged perpetrator, a friend of her mother’s. She says that her mother and this man [Person 5] were “drinking for a long time” and how she had gone to sleep but that she could hear them coming up the stairs.
The child is crying in the interview as she describes trying to push the man off her. She describes what happened when he raped her and says “I could see my Mam, she had her back to me.”
She tells the interviewer that when she went into the kitchen the following morning, [Person 5] was there and he said: “I think you know what happened last night, if you tell anyone I’m going to do something bad to you.” She felt very scared of him still.
During this interview A also talks about two other separate incidents where she describes being raped by two friends of her brother. “I got a fright when he came into the room, I was thinking ‘oh no don’t let this happen to me again’.”
A second incident happened when A was staying over in her brother’s friend’s house on a night when they were drinking and watching TV while she was upstairs. She told the interviewer that her brother and another friend came into her room and she was raped again.
The child covers her face and put her hands on her head during this part of the interview. She describes how her brother was drunk and that he pulled off her clothes, then he left her with his friend.
DVD 4, Garda child specialist interviewer, also 11th October, 53 minutes after the morning interview.
The Garda commences the interview, saying to the child: “You’ve had your lunch and you’ve got your drink in front of you, you’re happy out, aren’t you?”
Then the child is asked to talk about the next time she was sexually abused. She says this was by [Person 2] therefore this was the second time he raped her. The child starts by giving some background information on him and she is able to give the Garda his address. She explains how he had been drinking with her mum in their house, it was the weekend and that she had gone to bed very late, at 2am. Then the child starts to gets upset and the child specialist interviewer does some breathing exercises with her.
The interview then continues. A describes how her mother and [Person 2] came upstairs around 5 am and [Person 2] was wearing a housecoat, she describes the housecoat in detail. She says [Person 2] asked her mother to take off A’s clothes, she recounts how her mother then took them off in a very rough manner. The child starts to cry in the interview and says how her mum’s back was to her in the bed, she describes the pain, her fear and her attempts to resist. Neither her mother nor the man said anything while she was being raped.
The interview continues. The interviewer asks the child to talk about the next time the incident happened. A says she was about to turn nine, they were staying in [Person 1’s] place and that was where it happened. [This was the second time he had raped her].
The child is crying now and cannot talk.
The interview does not stop.
She then tells the interviewer what had happened on that occasion, including details of oral sexual abuse.
This was near her ninth birthday.
“How do you feel about everything now?” asked the Garda.
“I feel very scared of men and those boys. I don’t think that my Mam loved me because if she did love me she wouldn’t have let that happen. I don’t think [my brother] loved me either because he let [his friend] do that to me.”
She says how her foster mother was the first person she told any of this to.
The interview comes to an end. This was considered to be the last Garda child specialist interview. However further disclosures were made by the child and two further interviews took place on October 24th.
DVD 5, Garda child specialist interview, 24th October, length 1 hour 5 minutes.
A tells the interviewer how her mother used to take photos of her when she had no clothes on, that it started when she was one or two years old, “of me in poses, and when I was six, she showed me poses”.
Her mum’s friend [X] had two daughters and [X] would get them to show her poses and she was told to copy them.
Then her mother would show her the poses again and also told her to copy them. She took photos and kept them in an album. A said she remembered being six or seven. Her mother asked her to take off her clothes and showed her poses to adopt while the photos were being taken.
The child says this happened more than 50 times, always in the day time and there was no one else in the room. Her mother has lots of albums, there were no labels on them and they were downstairs in the kitchen, pushed up against a wall.
“Who saw the pictures?” asks the interviewer.
“She showed them to [my brother’s] friends, she showed them to her male friends. I was there when she was showing them.”
The child says that the men were all there, looking at the photos at the same time, about five men and it happened again with five more men. “She mainly showed the men that did it to me.”
The interviewer asks her to name the men and she does so, these are all the men she had named in the first four interviews.
“My Mam didn’t only show the men one time, she showed them over and over again,” says the child.
The second new disclosure that A had been brought in to talk about was about injections and tablets being given to her by her mother before each rape. Her brother also gave her injections and tablets when his friend was there.
The first time this happened was before the first rape by Person 1, ten or 15 minutes before he raped her.
She describes a cupboard in the kitchen which is full of medicine all from her mother’s home country her mother would ask for it when she was Skyping her sister (the child’s aunt). She described the box containing the needles. About a minute after being given the needle she would be given two different tablets. She described in detail the appearance and taste of the tablets.
“How did you feel after taking the tablets?”
“I felt really drowsy, but I knew what was going on. I felt really sleepy. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I get really tired, I feel weak, then I just fall asleep, really weak, I’d just go to sleep,” says the child.
This happened before each of the men and when the abuse took place in other houses, such as [X’s] house, her mother gave her the injection and tablets before she left her there alone. When she was raped by her brother’s friend at his house, her brother gave her the injection and the tablets.
DVD 6: Interview 6 with the Garda child specialist interviewer. 24th October, 27 minutes
At 2pm, the interview recommenced after a break. During this interview the child makes detailed disclosures about oral and anal rape by the men and the physical effects of this on her.
End of Garda child specialist interviews.
The next two interviews were carried out by the unit providing assessment and therapy for child sexual abuse (the unit).
November 8th interview
The social worker from the unit recommences her interviews with the child. A is colouring in during most of the interview.
She reminds A of what her job is about, that children go to her when they have some worries. She asks her how she felt after she spoke to the Garda child specialist interviewer.
“I felt phew. I talked about it and then I just went hawww, relieved!” said A.
The social worker asks her if she had a name for all of the stuff she had talked about to the Garda. “Do you have a word for what happened?”
“I kept hearing a word over and over again and I always thought what happened to me was called rape,” replied A, “I heard it on the radio, I kept hearing it over and over again.”
“What does rape mean, what happened to the woman?”
“A bad thing,” answered the child.
“Sometimes people talk about bad things because they’ve seen them or because it’s happened to them, or sometimes it’s another reason. What happened with the bad stuff to you? Did you see it or did it happen to you?” asked the unit social worker.
“It happened to me.”
She is asked on a scale of one to 100 in remembering, one hundred being every single detail, how much she could remember of what happened. A tells her she could remember “all the rape, 99 or 98”.
On a scale of one to one hundred, how much had she told of all the things that had happened? A replied it was one hundred.
Third DVD from the unit, 6th December 2013.
The child tells the interviewer how she had gone for a drive with the Garda [child specialist interviewer] to show her the houses where the men lived.
She is then asked if she had three wishes, what would they be. She tells the social worker that she has no wishes, that she has everything and that she had seen Santa in school earlier that day. She is asked what her biggest worry is and the child replies that she did not really have any worries now.
“What was the worst bit about talking to [the Garda child specialist interviewer] and us?” asked the social worker.
“Telling,” says A. “I was worried if I did move back with the bad woman and they knew what I told, that it happened to me that she’ll get really angry with me and I don’t know if she’ll do something to me.
“I know something is going to be done about it, that they’re all going to be put in jail,” says A. “They might say no that never happened so they won’t get put in jail, I want them to get caught because they might be doing it to other girls.”
She said she would feel really angry if the men said that they did not do it. She has nightmares about it and sometimes it popped into her head when she was not thinking about anything else.
“I talk to myself about it,” said A.
Resumption of witness: senior social worker from the unit
(The conclusion the judge comes to with the social worker from the unit is that they were not able to form an opinion on credibility.)
The unit had commenced the first of three interviews with the child, the second and third interviews were put on hold when it was decided at a strategy meeting involving the CFA and the GAL, at which the unit was not present, that due to further disclosures by the child, the Garda child specialist interviews would carry out their interview process. This had been decided by the CFA because the unit could use the Garda DVDs of the statements/interviews in order to assess credibility whereas the Gardaí could not use DVDs of the unit’s interviews for forensic purposes. The purpose of the unit’s interviews was for assessment of credibility and therapeutic need while the purpose of the Garda interviews was forensic.
“Our difficulty arose because the process had already started, it was the timing of the decision we had a problem with,” the unit social worker told the court.
She told the court that the unit had suggested to the Gardaí that both organisations work together as the other senior social worker from the unit involved in A’s case had trained as a Garda child specialist interviewer, but this offer was not taken up. The unit had wanted to avoid further repeated interviewing around the same topics because it could lead to information being generated that was less reliable and also because it was contra-indicated in terms of the child’s mental health.
The plan to assess for credibility had to be adjusted, said the unit’s social worker. They hoped it might not be necessary to proceed with a credibility assessment if the CFA could stand over credibility after viewing the statements by the child to the Gardaí.
The judge felt that it was unclear from the report what the purpose of the second and third interviews carried out by the unit were. She also felt that it was unclear to the child.
“How did you explain to [the child] what the plan was and how the plan had changed from the first date?” asked the judge.
The social worker said her role was explained to the child at the start of the unit’s second interview. “Where was it explained to the child what the purpose of the interview was?” asked the judge.
She had told her that her job was to talk to children about their worries so “we can work together to work some things out.”
“I don’t get the impression from the interviews that [the child] knew why she was there,” said the judge. “You said: ‘I’ve been to see [the Garda child specialist interviewer] and spoken to her about lots of different things and I’ve had a chance to look at those conversations so I don’t need to ask [you about that].’
“I was letting her know I’d seen the information and wasn’t planning on asking the same questions,” replied the social worker.
The judge told her that the appointed expert had said that this second interview by the unit was a “very different interview, its purpose was a systematic attempt to consider psychological needs.” [He gave direct evidence to the court later in the proceedings.]
The social worker from the unit agreed, yes, they were trying to consider her therapeutic needs.
The reason the judge was enquiring as to the purpose of the second and third interviews was because the social worker had written in her credibility report that she presented differently to her first interview with them. “She didn’t display any significant levels of distress that day and was able to respond to clarifications that day,” she told the court.
She had written in her report that: “The assessors noted [the child’s] demeanour when making the reports, remarkable in showing no signs of upset or distress.”
When pressed on what the purpose of the second interview was, the unit’s social worker told the court: “We were trying to consider her therapeutic needs, it was different to the first interview, yes.”
The judge replied that it was consequently unsurprising that the child was composed and presented so differently, “the style was completely different so she reacted differently.”
She asked the social worker if she was still of the belief that the child had been quite professionalised by the time she saw her again for the second interview, after doing the six Garda interviews. The unit social worker felt as she had had a number of interviews with the Gardaí by then and that it had possibly impacted on her, which would account for the difference she observed in the second interview with her.
“Perhaps the answer to the riddle is that it was a completely different interview,” said the judge.
She demanded to know the exact purpose of the interview.
“To assess the credibility of the information and explore her therapeutic needs,” said the unit social worker.
“Where is it clear to the child that you’re further exploring the matter with her?”
“I don’t think it’s clear,” conceded the social worker.
“So it’s not clear, it wasn’t made clear,” concluded the judge.
It fell into the category of assessing therapeutic needs, acknowledged the social worker, and she agreed that the child had not been clear that the unit was going to draw conclusions about the events because of the questions asked. However, the assessment team were still conducting a credibility assessment so the team were still looking at credibility as well as therapeutic needs, she told the court.
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) read from the report of the forensic clinical psychologist who was the appointed expert on credibility: “The pattern of her distress is striking and characteristic, when her narrative reached the point of actual alleged abuse, there is a very marked change in tone of voice, significant increase in disfluency and non-verbal distress.” The expert had described this as “disassociation”.
“She did display a significant amount of distress in the first interview,” acknowledged the social worker. However she did not believe that the child demonstrated the same level of distress in the subsequent interviews with the Gardaí.
The expert’s report had stated that disassociation was a coping mechanism, due to psychological numbing and disengagement.
“Yes this could be a reason why [the child] did not show quite the same distress when making the disclosures to the Gardaí,” acknowledged the social worker.
Then the solicitor for the GAL quoted from the social worker’s own report about the second interview in the unit, she read out: “[A] went on to reference reports, abusers and range of same.”
“That’s not correct,” pointed out the solicitor. “She didn’t discuss the incidents and range of same, you didn’t in fact discuss that, did you, you referred to the fact you’d spoken to the Gardaí.”
The GAL solicitor told her that it was a huge concern that she had said the child presented completely differently in their second and third interview sessions at the unit when she was not making disclosures in either of those interviews. “And you say there is a lack of congruence” pointed out the solicitor, surely an interview where the child was not making disclosures was a very different thing to describing being raped and how could the two be compared?
The social worker contended that she was not comparing them. She said the unit had been concerned that A had difficulty separating out her experiences of sexual abuse from the other forms of abuse because the entirety of children’s life experiences could affect what they say and how they say it.
The GAL solicitor read from the appointed expert’s report, which described the child in Garda interview number three as demonstrating “episodic acute distress around specific moments of description of actual abuse, there was striking distress in her tone of voice which was very likely to reflect an authentic moment of response to an actual experience.”
The social worker told the court that she did not recall that part of the DVD interview.
“That is the concern,” remarked the GAL solicitor. The social worker also told the court that it was a number of years since she had seen the DVDs as she could not remember the child using a lot of gestures, which the expert had described as suggesting “autobiographical and sensory memory, not a scripted account.”
The judge asked the unit’s social worker if a psychologist had been involved in A’s assessment after the referral meeting. The social worker told her that there had been no psychological input, her findings had not gone back through the assessment team which had included a number of psychologists.
She told the court that she had discussed it with the principal social worker at the time and another senior social worker. They had no psychological expertise.
The judge felt that a lack of clarity was emerging as to what the unit’s social worker had felt she was being asked to do at that time. “What did you think you were being asked to do?” asked the judge.
“To continue with the credibility assessment and to view [all of the child’s] statements to the Gardaí,” replied the social worker.
Five strategy meetings had been held with the HSE, no psychologist had been present at any of them. There were three sets of minutes from the five meetings.
“Do you believe your training as a social worker and your induction in the unit [which lasted six months], does it have any psychological components to it that would enable you to carry out assessments of credibility?” the judge asked.
The social worker did not reply, so the judge asked her again: “Do you think you have an expertise? Does a social work degree incorporate an ability to assess credibility? Do you feel you have that expertise?”
After a long pause, the unit social worker replied: “I do.”
Her induction period had lasted six months, she told the court.
The unit had reviewed the DVDs with the Agency for the purposes of assessing credibility.
The judge remarked that from the child’s point of view during the second interview, she may have been unclear.
Then the social worker agreed with the judge, that the child may not have been clear at that point.
“I think it would have been helpful if she had been clear,” pointed out the judge. “Could you draw any conclusions on credibility if the child was unclear?”
The social worker replied that the child had been there to talk things through during that second interview. As for the third, it was part of the assessment of therapeutic needs.
She told the judge that she had found the child’s core account of experiencing sexual abuse to be consistent, but that she could not form an opinion as to whether her mother was involved and they were “less clear about extent and range of details of individuals” so the perpetrators were not named.
She said they had been concerned as to how the process [of interviewing] may have impacted on the child’s report and the length of time it had taken. Her account was very similar across a number of the individuals that she had named. “In our opinion it was likely she had experienced sexual abuse but it was not possible to say she had had that experience with each of those seven individuals.”
“It was not the intention of the paragraph to say you didn’t find her credible?” queried the judge. “You could take an implication from this report that she was not credible but that’s not what you meant?”
Factors in the guidelines used to assess credibility were contextual information, narrative, detail or consistency over time, an affect or emotional response, idiosyncratic detail, absence or presence of secondary gain and an alternative explanation.
When they looked at the criteria, they had felt her reports did have merit, they believed she had had an experience of sexual abuse or witnessed sexual activity, said the social worker.
“That’s not in your report,” pointed out the judge.
Her opinion was based on the fact that a child A’s age could not have described the accounts unless she had experienced sexual abuse or witnessed it.
“What are you telling me is credible?” the judge wanted to know.
“I’m telling you her account of sexual abuse does appear to have merit,” said the social worker.
“You either formed an opinion or you didn’t. If you didn’t it’s fine.”
“We formed an opinion something had happened but couldn’t be clear on the nature. She may have witnessed sexual activity.”
“That’s not in your report,” said the judge. “This is an inquiry and I have to get to the bottom of this. You weren’t able to do what you were asked to do?”
“You were not able to form an opinion on credibility. That sentence is not in the report,” said the judge. “Is that not a fundamental line?
“There needs to be clarity about what’s being said and not said,” remarked the judge. “You are not professionally in a position to form an opinion on the credibility of the disclosures of [A] but you are of the opinion she has experienced abuse or witnessed sexual activity.”
The barrister for the CFA then put it to the witness that there are three possible outcomes from the unit in relation to credibility which are: credible, not credible and inconclusive. And her report had not come to any of these conclusions.
The unit social worker told the barrister that it had been an unusual assessment and that the process had possibly impacted on their opinion.
“She gave her account [in the Garda DVDs] of being sexually abused, it had merit, she was credible in giving an account, we weren’t able to be more definitive beyond that,” concluded the unit social worker.
Forensic clinical psychologist (agreed by all parties)
The Child and Family Agency appointed an expert in forensic clinical psychology to assess the credibility of the child’s disclosures.
He told the court that he worked in forensic clinical psychology conducting assessments in the UK (where forensic psychologists mostly work in prison services, mental health law, child psychology and crime). He conducted assessments on behalf of a court or agency associated with the law. Most of his work involved conducting and analysing forensic interviews of children (Achieving Best Evidence interviews conducted by the police) and sometimes he conducted additional interviews to assist the family court.
In the UK police officers who were trained in Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) conducted forensic interviews and if the police declined to carry out such an interview then the local authority might look for a forensic psychologist to conduct it instead.
In relation to this case, the expert told the court that he had watched the nine DVD interviews and that he had seen enough to form an opinion on both the quality of the interviews and the child’s presentation. He had also met with the unit. He had been required to watch their DVDs in situ as well as the Gardaí DVDs which had made the work harder. Furthermore he could not hold onto the transcripts so he could not annotate them to inform his report, this had made his work harder but not impossible.
Part of his role involved looking for evidence of conversations and interactions that could lead to false memory, “a building [up] can develop that can encourage a child to disclose more and more,” he told the court.
In looking at the interviews conducted by the unit, there had been a high quality transcript which he had relied on to record well what was said. One issue facing him was that it had been difficult to be sure what the purpose of the interview was. A clinical planning record had not been disclosed to him. It had not been an ABE interview.
The first interview in the unit was very good, he told the court, it was sensitive and careful however the environment had been a bit strange, there had been a jumble of furniture behind the child but the interviewee had seemed pretty resilient and at worst it had been a distraction.
In his opinion the first interview in the unit was investigative, to find out what the child’s experiences were with one eye on the family proceedings and checking veracity. It was videoed so this brought evidence into existence.
He said it was entirely appropriate that they did not focus on her experiences in the second and third interview. This is “an organisation with a foot in two counts, forensic and therapeutic requirements and needs of social services. The evolution was entirely appropriate between interviews.”
“The child’s distress was striking,” he told the court, “you don’t need an expert to interpret it.”
She had been communicative until the central point of something distressing and then very evidently became distressed which suggested this was not simply a script and reflected an actual experience. With this child there was a restricted focus of distress triggered by particular stimuli which meant that she was ok then very distressed, then returned to her previous presentation when the interviewer went on to a different topic.
She demonstrated “effortful recall”, which was part of the process of recollection when a question was not expected. There was also inarticulate distress when she was too distressed to respond.
He told the court that children who have experienced a lot of adversity in childhood present as rather resilient children, and as emotionally stable and thriving. “I believe it’s a form of resilience,” he told the court, “if they are not talking about their suffering they manage. Their response is about coping, keeping things suppressed, being cheerful and getting on with it. It is a way that human beings respond to trauma and cope with it.
“There is a sense of milieu of adversity, not primarily related to sexual abuse, that I think is what this child is living in, her response is as much to that. Her presentation constituted manifest and authentic distress, you can just see this is a child in distress arising from what she is talking about.”
He believed that the level of fear the child had of her mother would have an adverse effect on her mental health as an adult. She had displayed significant psychological difficulties at the time of the interviews.
He had found her to be a very intelligent child who was coherent and could make observations about what she had experienced. One of the strongest indicators of resilience was intelligence, he told the court.
In relation to the interviews at the unit being put on hold so the Garda interviews could take place, the expert told the court that this had not been a good decision to make from the perspective of the integrity and continuity of the investigation or with respect to the child. “If I was the interviewer [in the unit] I would have been very cross about this, I have to say.
“What on earth did this child think was going on, it may be someone explained it to her, I hope somebody did.”
He also remarked that there was a long delay between the interviews being stopped in the unit and commenced with the Gardaí. “What was that all about?” he asked.
Forensic expert’s analysis of the Garda child specialist interviews
The introductory phase of the first interview was exactly as an ABE interview should be conducted. There were technical issues however the camera was autofocussing and popping in and out of focus making it difficult to see the child’s emotions.
He felt their “truth and lies” explanations with the child were a bit laboured and that it was better to enjoin her to tell the truth rather than give her a lot of examples to test her understanding of what truth was. The interviews would have benefitted by less vigorous pursuit of times and locations and to engage the child more in relation to her feelings.
He did not have an issue with the child’s veracity.
The expert said that he liked how the interviewer took her time before asking the substantive questions. “Full marks for the rapport building,” he commented.
There had been a lot of open questions in the first Garda interview and the Garda did not rely heavily on closed questions. However the questions were weak because they were overly complex in trying to get her to recall things.
On a couple of occasions the child did not understand the question and said so. “The good thing was the child said she didn’t understand. This revealed a lack of experience or training on the part of the police officer,” the expert told the court. However the fact the child stopped reinforced an opinion on veracity.
The child did not show an inclination to be led.
The expert said that there were clearly things that happened quite a long time ago and very specific things were being asked. This was generally a problem. For example, asking the child “where were your hands?” This was a dangerous question as the child is likely to want to answer it. “It was a third to a half of the child’s age ago and inappropriately specific,” he told the court.
“The first Garda interview lasted over an hour and that is a concern. There is a rule of thumb in the UK that particularly a first interview shouldn’t go further than 40 minutes. With this sort of material it’s really draining on the child. It’s a lot to ask for a child to put up with this,” said the expert.
He felt it was insensitive to question the child for so long and there was subsequently a risk of building up an expectation of how things would be in subsequent interviews.
“Very often this child is distressed, I would have expected the person observing to say ok I think that’s enough for now and plan the second interview.”
In his opinion the child was eminently interview-able, she appeared to pay attention and expressed uncertainty, she said when she did not understand a question. She did not enjoy the interview to an inappropriate level and he had not been worried that this attention was welcomed.
He had been struck that the child had used gestures and had acted out narrative. “When they start gesturing you get the sense they are reconstructing a scene and sequence of events, it suggests recall rather than invention and suggests her accounts represent autobiographical memories.”
There was good childlike narrative, she had paid attention to objects in a childlike way, such as the belt which she had described: “It was white, there were these triangle holes in it. She gets the curvy part and she hits me with that,” this had demonstrated good recollection and was characteristic of a child struggling with a description.
This description had been followed by a good question, said the expert: “Did you notice anything different about yourself?” The child had replied: “I couldn’t sleep on it, my back from the studs was all red, one of the studs cut into my skin, there was blood coming out as well.” Her description absolutely perfectly matched a child’s narrative in response to a question.
The child demonstrated effortful recall, said the expert, in recounting how she had been kicked by her mother.
“How on earth would you enable a child to falsely generate an answer like this, unless it was horribly abusive with somebody coaching this child systematically to lie in detail in a characteristically childlike way. Here it’s really hard to see, I wouldn’t know how to begin to get a child to do this without the absence of experience,” he told the court.
In relation to the child’s affect, the expert said she was cheerful and positive then distress broke through when she was focussing on experiences of alleged abuse. “She almost collapses into distress, maintains a veneer then goes into distress. The interviewer responds as though the child is in distress. [She said:] ‘She let men hurt me in between my legs.’ She became quite distressed, that is the specific trigger for her distress.”
Second Garda interview
The expert was concerned that the second interview had commenced after lunch, the two interviews were very close together and this was a child welfare issue. It was a distressing thing for a child to go through unless there was a belief that the interview was urgent.
“I can see no reason to put a child through an ordeal as long as the first interview and then the second one.”
The risk was that it could start to distort the child’s evidence in ways that were difficult to detect. He had never seen any guidance that would recommend or allow this to happen. “This was insensitive in the extreme,” he told the court.
The process of the second interview upset the child and there had been a rigid approach to the interview where the child had been pressed to repeat highly distressful accounts of no specific forensic advantage.
The interviewer had invited the child to take deep breaths, but that was not enough. “Two hours into this sort of experience is just completely inappropriate, I don’t know why they thought there were reasons for persisting with it.”
The ratio of open and closed prompts had been good. However some questions were not sensible. For example: “How old were you when your mum first hit you with a belt?” Here the child would construct a response based upon beliefs and other memories, it opened the door to a lot of influences, “gist memories”, where estimates are made about what they were wearing and the danger was the police would take it as a secure event. A false sense of precision and accuracy is then generated by the interview process.
In these interviews the accounts were likely to have happened, but when exactly was difficult to say. Unreliable evidence could be linked to specific questions with an unreliable timeline. “But overall reliability was not affected,” he told the court, he was more concerned about the expansion of allegations to other people.
There had been unusual details along physical sensations as the child had no vocabulary to describe and he did not expect someone of her age to have that vocabulary. For example when asked: “In the morning, what did you notice about yourself?” the child replied describing in detail the physical evidence of having been abused.
Third Garda interview
His concerns in the first and second Garda interview were restated in relation to the third interview.
The third interview represented a further failure to adapt and respond to the needs of the child by the interviewer and this was reflected in parts of the interview in a preoccupation by the police in identifying the perpetrators. Rather than generate an ever-increasing list where the distress disrupts the narrative the focus should have been to explore an allegation more fully. The interview had been far too long.
The child’s presentation and narrative showed features of autobiographical memory. She also demonstrated that she was cautious about what she said and restricted it to reflect what she believed she had experienced.
What had stuck out in the interview was the child’s general sense of being fearful of what might happen upon disclosing. She had an understanding it should not be said for fear of what would be done to her in retribution by an adult. “If you tell anyone I’m going to do something very bad to you.”
He found that to be an important piece of evidence. When an adult does something to a child which is sufficiently bad for the adult to threaten the child not to communicate it, this was a key feature of abuse by an adult. “The adult has clearly crossed the line. With post hoc threats against communication, then this didn’t happen accidentally. It’s an order of experience that the perpetrator knew presented a serious risk to the child and took steps to prevent its disclosure.”
Fourth Garda interview
This interview had commenced at 13.31, the previous interview (third interview) had taken place on the same day and had not finished until 12.11. The fourth interview should not have taken place given all there had been in the earlier interview.
The pattern of episodic acute distress was further repeated.
When the child had described the oral sexual abuse it was “a noteworthy exception to the formulaic, you could simply see the level of distress this was causing, it was an order of distress that was greater than the previous [level[ which is a likely response to an authentic experience.” He found it very difficult to imagine how a child could be induced to fake that presentation and account.
The expert told the court that there had been a relentless proceeding with the interview and the contrast of the child’s presentation reflected the repeated trauma.
“It contains useful evidence but the process was abusive,” he said firmly.
He found the accounts to be genuine.
Fifth Garda interview
The conduct of the interview was rather better than the previous Garda interviews, said the expert. “The quality of the questions was higher, my heart wasn’t sinking in the same way.”
In this interview the child gave details in respect of injections and tablets, when he went back over the interviews he saw that there were hints of references to sleepiness and intoxication. There had been comments about how she had woken in a bath and did not know how she got there. “At the time I thought it was inadequate routine, it struck me it could be interpreted in light of allegations of intoxication.
“Her presentation in the interview was rather different to the preceding one in that it was largely calm and matter of fact,” the CFA solicitor said.
The expert replied that the unit had been more concerned about this than he was. While it was true that the child talked about being drugged in a matter of fact way his conclusion was that to her being drugged “was not the worst thing about this, it was the core experience, she wasn’t particularly distressed by having photos or by being given drugs, it was the actual experience she was distressed by.”
Duration of interview process
The expert told the court that as the interviews went on longer and longer the worry was there was a momentum that was not necessarily driven by the child’s experience but there were clear indications associated with the distress of her actual experience.
He did not share the view of the unit that her presentation was substantially functionally different and he felt it was essentially the same.
His overall view of the Garda interviews was that there were difficulties with strategy and a discontinuity between child protection and the criminal investigation which was a serious problem. There had been excessive length and repetition as well as a relative weakness in understanding child development and what is reasonable to expect a child to understand, communicate and remember.
“I don’t think I can give you any reason to be seriously concerned about the content of her evidence, you can for the most part read it at face value.”
Second interview at the unit
The expert told the court on viewing the DVD it was difficult to see what was going on, it appeared that nobody was observing the interview or managing the video being shot.
He did not know what the goal of the interview was, it was appropriate in that they had not set out to find more experiences, he would describe the interview as loosely investigative and very appropriately not eliciting self-reported evidence.
“I almost broke into applause when I saw the interviewer say I’m not going to ask you any more questions.” This had been entirely appropriate and he hoped the child had heaved a sigh of relief internally.
He did not know why the interviewer had asked the child if she had a label for her experience but it was a perceptive question. “The child gave an authentic and convincing account of not knowing what rape means but believed it had happened to her.”
Third interview at the unit
The expert thought this interview looked to transition the child from the investigative process to move her on to more therapeutic work.
His overall opinion
It was almost inconceivable to imagine how the child could have been actively coached, he said. The conduct of the interviewing did not account for the content of her allegations or her presentation. Even the worst aspects of the Garda interviews could not account for the allegations, it increasingly looked like a child who was doing her best to record the allegations as best she could.
In relation to the allegation regarding her brother, the concern was it might have been prompted by the Garda’s question, “is there anything else left to say?” There was the possibility that she did over-extend herself towards the end of the investigation but equally her thoughts could have been focussed by her knowledge that her brother had had a child and that was a trigger.
In looking at all the evidence, he told the court: “You don’t need any expert to tell you about the authenticity of the substantial aspect of what the child has said. The unusual aspects of this case don’t pull the rug out from this child’s evidence.”
He felt that the unit had a “jaundiced view partly because of the way the original interview was terminated and replaced by the investigation. There were so many disturbing aspects to the police interviews, this is almost exactly how not to conduct an investigation from a service providers’ point of view.”
The expert told the court that he disagreed with the unit and that the child’s presentation was “match-able to her previous presentation”, it was possible she had overextended in the last few perpetrators but there was very little in the interviews to lead to doubting her veracity.
Regarding the relationship between the child and the mother, the expert had observed that it was very clear the child did not want a connection with her parent. She was “a child who described such a bleak existence that she had no sense of comfort, no refuge and protection, which in one sense was even more important than the sexual abuse allegations”, he told the court.
He felt there were a number of perpetrators and acknowledged that she may have included people that were not part of the abuse, this he said reflected the complexity of who constituted her household at the time rather than undermining her experience.
In his opinion her mother knowingly involved the child in sexual abuse which started through alcohol use.
He told the court that the sexual abuse units in the UK were paediatrician-led and not geared up towards interviewing and interview analysis like the unit here, which was investigative. In relation to the interview process that had taken place by both the unit and the Gardaí, the expert felt that from the perspective of good practice a professional liaison between the two should have taken place.
There had been overly complex questions asked by the Garda child specialist interviewer and he had not seen a lot of evidence of the child’s welfare being monitored by the second Garda. “If there had been any question of the welfare of the child, the interview would have been abandoned,” said the barrister for the CFA.
“That’s not the way it appears to me,” replied the expert.
He felt it was meaningless that the child had said she was happy to do a second interview on the day. “I’m assuming she meant she agreed,” he told the CFA barrister. “She didn’t appear to welcome it with any real happiness. It’s putting a responsibility on the child that’s not in any way reasonable.”
In evidence the Garda had told the court that it was an extreme circumstance, said the CFA barrister, that it had been a unique case with so many perpetrators that they had decided it was in the best interests of the child to keep it going.
The expert did not agree. “Having so many perpetrators would be a reason to keep it slowly, not bowling on with a distressed and fatigued child,” he responded.
Some of the questions had been closed questions that were too specific and focussed. She had been asked to describe the perpetrator’s underpants for example. “Children’s memories are just not that detailed,” he explained, “you’re very likely to fall foul of a child who will get information from elsewhere.”
The Garda did not accept this, replied the CFA barrister, she had asked this information in order to establish a timeline and to stand over the arrest.
“She was being asked about details from when she was four years’ old,” said the expert, “How can you tell if you are getting an accurate answer?”
There was no record of planning for the Garda interviews which was unfortunate. He was not expecting anything more than a sheet of A4 really. It would have been helpful to know what their strategy was in the context of their interview process. He felt the interview process in the second and third was very repetitive, rather than exploring a statement a little more they kept pressing on when they should have pulled back.
During the fourth interview, once again the interviewer did not respond to the fatigue and change in tone of voice of the child. “She just couldn’t go on, it makes me wonder what on earth that child had to say to have a break introduced by the officer for child welfare.”
He said this interview was “particularly concerning and almost abusive.”
In the later interviews by the Gardaí, he said he would be more worried about the identifications within them and his advice was that it would be very difficult to hold up in a prosecution.
“No [criminal] charges have been brought,” said the mother’s barrister.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” responded the expert.
In relation to the report from the unit, which stated it was “not safe for them to offer an opinion on the range of her abuse or identity of abuser or abusers,” the expert told the court that he was surprised at their language. “At some stage you’ve got to be explicit about exactly what happened and not, they bundled it altogether.”
He felt the unit had been stymied in some sense by the interview process being stopped so the Gardaí interviews could take place.
The strong element of the evidence was neglect. She had also indicated a significant amount of emotional abuse, said the expert, the impact of which should not be underestimated in her disclosures.
“What is being suggested is that this child had a very unhappy existence and that gave a motivation for an escalation and continuation of the sexual abuse allegations. If she came to believe the only way she could stay away from her previous lack of care was if she made more allegations, it’s certainly something we have to take into account.”
The barrister for the mother put it to the expert formally that the mother did not accept that her child had experienced sexual abuse at all.
This did not change the expert’s opinion on the veracity of her claims.
In relation to the assessment process in the unit, the expert told the court that he was surprised there had been no psychological input in the making of the report. He felt that it was a complicated and troubled case, therefore if there had been a psychologist on the team why had they not been involved.
Although it was a troubled case, the evidence was very clear and he did not share the unit’s opinion on taking such a cautious approach in concluding on credibility.
“Your opinion is that it is more probable than not that what [the child] accounted can be believed?” asked the judge.
“Yes,” replied the expert.
He also said he did not see any reason to doubt her accounts in relation to her mother which extended from lack of care to actually being complicit in abuse by third parties and engagement in sexual activities.
“Photos and medication?” asked the judge. “More probable than not that that’s believable?”
“Yes, I thought her accounts of the medication were very persuasive. I didn’t share [the unit’s] view on the lack of affect on those.”
He did not have a good grasp of who was who, although the child did, therefore it was possible that at that stage she was over-extending and partly also because it went back to when she was so young. In his opinion there had been multiple perpetrators, he told the court.
“There seems to have been a breakdown in communication between [the unit] and the Gardaí, do you have a view on how these things could be better done?” asked the judge. “Criminal investigations do not take into account the needs for child welfare,” the expert replied. “They become too focussed on physical evidence and the colour of the curtains.” He told the court he would be happy to talk to anybody about how the case could have been better handled.
Consultant paediatric doctor
The consultant paediatric doctor who was requested to carry out a medical examination regarding vaginal and anal penetrative abuse told the court that she had done a medical history piece with the child.
She told the court that A had complained of pain in her genital area and of being sore at night. She described pain for many years which would come and go and a yellow vaginal discharge. She described pain passing urine and her bottom was sore at times.
The child was examined for signs of acute injuries and for bleeding and swelling. The anal genital tract was seen as normal. Posterior hymen depth was adequate with no tear to the base of the hymen; absence of such findings did not mean it had not occurred.
The doctor cited two large studies done in 2009 and 2002, she told the court that a negative finding did not assist you at all that sexual abuse did or did not happen. It was not entirely understood why positive physical findings were so low.
Garda child specialist interviewer
The Garda child specialist interviewer told the court that she had received four weeks’ training and had not had any updated training since then. She did receive supervision from trainers in the Garda College, these trainers were three sergeants who had travelled to the UK and received training on how to train the specialist interviewers.
She told the court that their role as child specialist interviewers was to make a DVD for evidentiary purposes. She had also carried out a clarification interview of about 30 minutes in duration before the interview process began. Clarification interviews were not recorded.
The first clarification interview had taken place on the 28th of September, following this the first child specialist interview had taken place on the 7th of October. The Garda did not have a recorded reason for the delay between the two interviews.
A charge of neglect had been brought against the mother but the Garda child specialist interviewer had no involvement in the criminal proceeding so she was not aware of the charge itself. She did however have a summons to the proceedings in order for the DVD to be relied upon in court.
The goal in their interview process was to achieve best evidence, she told the court. She was not qualified to decide on credibility.
The mother’s barrister put it to the Garda that the expert’s opinion had been that she had asked the child to recall details beyond her cognitive capacities or beyond her ability to recall. The barrister asked the Garda what training she had had.
“During the first two weeks of theory-based training a number of child psychologists went through that,” replied the Garda.
The mother’s position was that these things did not happen, said her barrister. For example the child had described watching a programme on the Disney Channel when she was four but that programme was not airing then. This had made her evidence unreliable. Furthermore the mother was saying it was gist evidence, as opposed to something she remembered.
“I don’t know if she answered like that because of the way I asked the question,” said the Garda.
While the expert did not accept the mother’s position that it did not happen, said the barrister for the mother, and he believed the core evidence, he said the problem lay in asking questions beyond her age and the answers being relied upon. “Do you see that?”
“Yes,” acknowledged the Garda.
“I would very much doubt that any timeline based on this evidence is reliable, do you accept that?” asked the barrister.
Garda: “[He] is the expert, absolutely.”
“The basis of his concern about the reliability, had she been pressed less you might have got less information but the more open questions you ask and the less specifics you try to get, you won’t have as much evidence at the end of it, but the evidence you have can be better relied on, would you accept that?”
“I would,” answered the Garda. “But in page 38 of the Best Practice Guidelines, we have to explore details and not just the facts, we have to build up a picture for the investigation for criminal charges.”
The mother’s barrister put it to the Garda again that asking the child to recall specific details about when she was four was likely to be beyond her cognitive ability through no fault of her own. She added that training on child development and children’s understanding of time should be delivered and given on an on-going basis.
The Garda accepted this.
Regarding the length and quantity of Garda interviews, the mother’s barrister asked the Garda if it was unusual for them to conduct more than one interview with a child in one day. The Garda told her that she had only done so in two other cases and had conducted 170 cases since the interviews with A.
The maximum interviews she had carried out with a child were two interviews and in this case she had done six interviews with A, which was unprecedented.
The mother’s barrister put it to the Garda that over-extension of the child had been a risk and should have been considered at the time.
In reply, the Garda told her that this had been an unprecedented case, they had never been in this position before and she would take on board the opinion of the appointed expert. They had realised the danger of doing more interviews, however, the allegations had been very serious.
In relation to the unit becoming involved in the Gardai’s interview process, the Garda was unaware of any proposal regarding this from the unit and did not remember being asked to meet with them regarding input.
The Garda had been cognisant that the unit had already commenced their assessment and that it had stopped in order for the Gardaí to commence their interview process. She told the court that this had never happened in any other case.
In interviewing a child who has suffered multiple abuse it was difficult to establish a timeline which was why there were so few prosecutions, said the Garda.
The social worker told the court that she had entered the mother’s house with a colleague and two members of An Garda Síochana who happened to be in the social work office when they were departing for the house.
She repeated the evidence of the Garda who had invoked Section 12 in relation to the condition of the house being dirty and with rubbish overflowing in the kitchen. The social worker recounted how she and her colleague had gone up the A’s bedroom where they noticed that her bunk-bed was “an oasis of calm” in her messy bedroom. The child had lined up her book, teddies and dolls meticulously on her bed as well as her clothes, which she had washed herself.
When the social workers explained their job to the child, which was “a very special job to make sure children are safe” the child told them that things at home were not good and began shaking, then she told them that she was cold.
The child told them that her mum had gone to a friend’s house and had only come back yesterday. She had said that while her mum was away she had been locked in on her own and had been unable to open the back or front doors which were locked. The house had been cold for two weeks with no heat (it was December).
She told them that she washed her own clothes and had asked her mum why she would not put the heating on.
“There was something she wanted to tell us but she would not say it,” said the social worker.
The child then wrote down that her mum’s friend had given her two bad touches, that he had hit her on the bum and whacked her on the head giving her a bad eye. Her brother had given her one bad touch.
She wanted her mum to be like a normal mum and that sometimes when she drinks before dinner she makes no dinner, other times her mum left a note to say there was food in the press. She said she would miss her mum when she was told she was going into care.
At present she was in her fourth foster placement. Her first placement had been emergency foster care and from there she was placed with a family where she had almost immediately begun to make disclosures and it became evident that she would require a number of services. It was during her time with this family that A had done all of her interviews with the unit and the Gardaí.
However the family composition in that placement had not been appropriate to meet her needs and she was moved to another foster family. During her time with that family she was presenting with some challenging behaviours and funding had been approved for a private psychologist. That placement had ended suddenly when the family had requested respite on a Tuesday with a plan to fly out of the country on the Saturday.
When the family were informed that it was not in the child’s best interests to go into respite in such an unplanned way they immediately handed in their notice to end the placement within 28 days. The child had been about to move into emergency foster care when an experienced foster family became free and were willing to offer her a placement. She was told on a Wednesday that she would be moving on the Friday.. So far she was settling in well and thriving. They were a very experienced foster family who had experience caring for children with complex needs.
This placement could be approved under Section 18 as a long term placement, the social worker told the court. “She feels loved there and part of the family.”
“How has the mother presented over the course of the three year period?” asked the barrister for the CFA.
The social worker told the court that over the three years she had presented under the influence of alcohol on occasions. Although she had spoken to her consistently in relation to her alcohol misuse, the mother continued to fail to acknowledge she was intoxicated the night that A came into care, saying she had only consumed one can. And although she did drink in the house A did not witness it as she would be upstairs.
“I drink when I get worried,” the mother had told the social worker, “my alcohol problem is linked to my emotional issues, it is an illness.”
It had been recommended by a psychologist that she engage in alcohol addiction treatment before attending a psychologist. Since A had come into care the social work department had recommended an alcohol residential service for the mother but she was not willing to go there. “I don’t need to go there, there’s no point, I’m too strong,” she had told them.
“She stated she can stop drinking when she decides and has not drunk since Christmas Day 2012,” said the social worker. However the mother was under the influence of alcohol weeks later. .
The mother had completed a four week education programme in an addiction centre but had stated that she did not know what her goals were or why she was being sent there. She was very clear that she did not have a problem with alcohol and its use had not affected her care of A. “Everybody drinks too much sometimes,” she had told them.
Subsequently he mother had been arrested for drunk driving and convicted, said the social worker.
“On foot of the disclosures to the first foster mother what did you do?” asked the CFA barrister.
The department had requested a full psychological assessment of the child for her emotional needs and therapeutic supports but were informed in March 2013that a primary care psychologist would not be able to take up the referral.
Due to nightmares, bed-wetting and rubbing her hands together until they bled, it was decided that the child needed an intervention and a child psychotherapist was engaged who carried out play therapy sessions with A.
Eight months after the child entered care a referral was made to the unit providing assessment and therapy services for child sexual abuse (the unit). There were a number of disclosures involving allegations and a number of alleged perpetrators. Subsequent to the referral there were further allegations.
A strategy meeting had been held with the GAL, the CFA and the Gardaí on the same day as the child’s first interview with the unit. During the meeting it was agreed that she should
only go through one interview process and that it would have to be with the Gardaí because the Gardaí could not rely on the unit’s DVD interviews if the case was brought for prosecution.
The social work department were conscious of the impact the change of interview process would have on the child but the social worker felt that the child was ready to speak and if there was continuity and that was explained to her she was bright enough to understand.
It was intended to be a two-step process, firstly she would communicate it to her and secondly the unit would be involved in explaining the handover to A. However the social worker from the unit had told her that the unit did not want to be involved in introducing the Gardaí to the child and did not see a role in that.
There had been a delay between the clarification interview by the Gardaí and their first child specialist interview with her so that the mother could give informed consent to the interview process.
The social worker told the court that she had accompanied the child to the Garda interviews and had waited for her outside the interview room. On the way to the first interview the child had been nervous and had not spoken about it during the lunch break. She had appeared more relaxed on the journey home after the second interview.
Following the third interview the child had become very upset at lunchtime about her position within the foster family but the social worker said that she felt A was ok and would have told her if she did not want to go back into the fourth interview.
Regarding the report from the unit, the social worker told the court that they were not in agreement that there were differences in presentation between the interviews. Subsequently all parties had advised the court that they wished to have an independent assessment of the unit’s DVD interviews and the Gardaí DVD interviews. A joint letter of referral was agreed by the CFA, the GAL and the mother in order to have the forensic clinical psychologist appointed.
In relation to therapy, although the child was displaying compulsive behaviours, and a private psychologist had been engaged, A had said that she had found therapy too hard. The psychologist was very clear that therapy would have to wait until the child was ready.
The social worker told the court that the child’s mother had failed to provide her with emotional warmth, consistency and stability and had engaged in alcohol use. She had not provided the child with the care that she needed to protect her welfare and safety.
A had witnessed her mum engage in sexual relationships with male partners and there were a number of serious allegations in relation to physical and emotional abuse and neglect. There were also allegations that she had been subjected to sexual abuse with the knowledge and involvement of her mother.
The child had very low self-esteem. Her self-care skills had to be built up, she had to be shown how to wash herself properly, how to wash her teeth and clean herself after going to the toilet.
A parenting capacity assessment had been carried out and although the mother had shown an ability to provide basic care and spoke about the importance of routine this was not the parenting approach that she had implemented. Furthermore she had not acknowledged any issues regarding her parenting.
The mother had failed to provide a safe environment for her child and had locked her in the house, at home alone. She had exposed her child to violence and alleged sexual abuse by men whom she had invited into the home.
The child had spoken about being beaten quite badly by the mother with a belt.
She had failed to provide stability and had exposed her child to a chaotic home environment. She had not provided adequate stimulation and there had been poor school attendance.
The mother denied that her daughter witnessed any violence, or that she let strange men into the home. She said the men were never violent to A and that she loved her and treated her like an angel.
In relation to the risk assessment, if the child were to be returned home, A would be highly vulnerable. There had been consistent denials of the allegations made by her which increased that vulnerability. The abuse had happened when her mother was the primary care-giver. She was emotionally very vulnerable and had a fear of her mother.
The mother had stated that she had not placed the child at risk and denied all child protection concerns. The mother was named as an alleged perpetrator and there were serious allegations in relation to friends of the mother.
The social worker discussed the Risk Estimation Scheme which assessed severity of future risk. She told the court there was a high likelihood of severity as the child had been subjected to neglect, there were allegations of sexual abuse on more than one occasion, allegations of physical abuse and of being drugged. The home had been chaotic, there had been unpredictable parenting, the mother had failed to acknowledge any issues in the family home.
In relation to access, the mother had agreed to sign an access contract due to concerns about her presentation towards the child at visits. The child had rules she wanted at access which included: “Do not shout at me, do not whisper, I want her not to be angry at me, shout or threaten me.”
Access had been suspended for three months in March 2013 due to the child’s presentation after the visits. There had been bed-wetting, soiling, engaging in self-harm and having nightmares. When the access resumed an interpreter was brought in at the request of the child “to make sure my mum does not say anything mean to me.”
Following the disclosures the child had said she did not want access, it ceased and began again two years later.. There had been five access visits since it had recommenced.
Access with her brother had recommenced the same year. .
The social work department were seeking a full Care Order for A until the age of 18 under Section 18 of the 1991 Child Care Act. There had been neglect under Section 18, emotional abuse under Section 18 and sexual abuse under Section 18. Access should be left at the discretion of the CFA, the social worker said.
A statement of proposed findings of fact had been lodged by the Agency and a statement of reply had to be filed as to the statement of facts.
The barrister for the mother told the social worker that the mother had not understood the specifics of the night which had led to the Section 12 due to her level of English and that it was not because of her alcohol intake.
The social worker pointed out that the mother had been in Ireland for over a decade by then. . “I have been working for almost six years and I can still visualise the condition of the house that night,” she told the court.
The mother’s position was that she was not heavily intoxicated that night, said her barrister, if she had been she could not have properly looked after her daughter.
In relation to the interviewing process and the way in which interviewing was stopped at the unit in order for the statements to be given to the Gardaí, the mother’s barrister put it to the social worker that this appeared to be against best practice. The mother felt that the manner in which it proceeded was very prejudicial to her.
The mother’s barrister asked why the interviews with the Gardaí had not been considered at the time when the process began with the unit? And why had there been a separate strategy meeting with the Gardaí, the GAL and the social work team on the day of A’s first interview with the unit in early September?
The social worker explained that the strategy meeting was held following on from the significant disclosures in late August and there were potential child protection concerns for other children in the community. It had been an information sharing meeting between the Gardaí and the social work team.
The mother’s barrister pointed out that there was no way the unit could carry out their credibility assessment through interviewing once the child had already undergone six interviews with the Gardaí. The expert had told the court that it would have been abusive at that point to put the child through a further credibility assessment and go through more details. And although A had done the child specialist interviews, the timeline or number of perpetrators could not be relied upon.
It was an utterly flawed credibility assessment by the unit, contended the mother’s barrister, they could not test the child’s account as they could not ask any questions to try and contextualise. “They couldn’t do the credibility assessment they ought to have been able to do,” she said.
“[The unit] did not complete it and that is why [the forensic expert] was asked to complete it and offer an opinion on the credibility of the assessments,” said the social worker.
“At no point did you consult with [the unit] and ask them if they thought it was a good idea,” said the mother’s barrister. She asked the social worker if she accepted it would have been better for the child to have gone with one or the other process and carry it through before commencing with the second process.
The social worker explained that the case had evolved due to the significant disclosures, and in most cases yes it would be better but she felt that the child was not impacted by the change in interviews.
In relation to the Garda child special interviews and the information that A had disclosed, the mother’s barrister went through some of the accounts of the disclosures, the timelines given by A and the names of the alleged perpetrators. She told the social worker that the mother had said the disclosures could not have happened because A had not met the men at the age she said she had.
“That’s what the mother is saying,” said the social worker. “It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The mother consistently has stated that [the child] is lying,” said the social worker. She had also contended that her child had been coached by the Gardaí and that a fortune teller had told her that something had happened to A but that it had happened when she was with her foster family.
An explanation offered by the mother was that the Gardai had told A what to say. In relation to the mother’s alcohol use, her barrister said: “She does accept she had an alcohol problem and had an alcohol addiction but she is dealing with it and will continue to engage with [the alcohol treatment centre].”
“Her position has always been her alcohol misuse hasn’t impacted on her parenting capacity,” replied the social worker.
The solicitor for the GAL asked the social worker if the mother had ever shown upset for the child and what she said happened. “No, she consistently said she was lying,” answered the social worker. The relationship between the mother and daughter was very strained and was at the very early stages of being re-established. The conversation had to be continuously supported.
It was proportionate that a Care Order was necessary under Section 18.1.a.b. and c. until the age of majority, the social worker said.
The mother’s barrister informed her client against self-incrimination which could expose her to a criminal charge, penalty or forfeiture. It was explained that the High Court could apply to the District Court (for a digital audio recording of the care order proceedings) to be relied upon in a subsequent criminal case. The DPP could make an application, therefore statements she made in the Care Order proceedings could be relied upon in a criminal investigation.
Following this, the judge explained to the mother that she was not bound to answer any question if the answer would in any way have a tendency to expose her to a criminal charge or to a penalty of any kind. The mother said that she understood.
When asked by her barrister to describe how things were at home before A came into care, the mother first began to talk about when A had been a baby.
“My little daughter [A], I love her very much. I cannot describe it in words. I never even called her [A], I used to call her my little one. Since the time she was born she was an amazing child, even when she was a baby it was not difficult for me, she didn’t even cry at night.”
She told the court how she had come to Ireland and met A’s father in the café where they both worked. He had lived with them for a year before returning to his home country.
A relationship with a different man began [A had named him as an alleged perpetrator] and he lived with them for two years. Following that relationship she was in a new relationship for five years [another alleged perpetrator named by A].
Her barrister asked her if she had any comment as to why A had missed 35 days of school in the year before coming into care. . When the mother replied that she could not remember the judge told her that they needed to know.
“I don’t know what to say,” the mother told the court. Then she said that sometimes A had been sick or said her leg was hurting. “They were only lies but nevertheless she told me so.” On other occasions she just decided that her daughter would stay at home and several times she missed the school bus.
Her barrister asked her if she had any memory of the school principal ringing her in when A had come into school visibly upset and disclosed that her mother had not come home the previous night.
Although she remembered the principal ringing her about not being at home, the mother replied that it had not happened.
In relation to concerns from the social worker that A had been locked in the house by herself for three days without heating and food, the mother said that she had never been left in the house for a day or for days. “I locked her inside, yes, for several hours.” But she had locked her in because she wanted to watch TV instead of coming to the shops.
This had been on a school day however and she had been absent due to head lice, said the mother. When she went shopping she had met a friend and got delayed. Then she received a phone call from her neighbour who asked her where she was and told her that she should not leave A on her own in the house, she had offered to look after the child for a while.
“I said that would be fantastic, I thanked her for that and made an agreement to collect at 6 am.” That morning after being picked her by her mum, A had not wanted to go to school “as always she wanted to sleep a little”. So she had gone upstairs to her mother’s room to watch her programmes and she planned to take her to school the next day.
That afternoon she went to Supervalu and bought vodka and cider for Christmas. When she got home her son got very angry when he saw the vodka bottle because he had wanted money for a new phone and also because she had promised she would not drink anymore. He then smashed the bottle on the kitchen floor and broke her phone.
That evening the Gardaí and the social worker came to visit the house, A had gone upstairs with the social workers and the Gardaí had gone into the kitchen with her.
“I was intoxicated but not very intoxicated,” she told the court.
She agreed that the kitchen was in a state, her son had broken the bottle of spirits and there “were four cans of cider knocking about, there was a smell, I do agree”. She contended that the dishes had not built up over several weeks, it had not been that many and it was her children who had put them there “they wouldn’t wash their dishes”. The pile of dirty laundry on the floor had been left there by her son. “He is too lazy to learn how to use the washing machine.”
There had been no heating in the house because the boiler had been broken and she had contacted the county council to come and fix it. She told the court that she had bought a 40 euro top up that day for gas.
Her barrister asked her what her understanding was of why her daughter went into care that night but the mother changed the subject back to the central heating. She told the court that when she was out of the house the heating was always turned off.
When asked again what her understanding was, the mother replied she had been told by the social workers that she was drunk and that it had something to do with A’s absences from school. She told the court that A had held her and said she was going to miss her. “When they took her away from me I was going crazy.”
There were concerns that the mother had made threats to A at access, the mother denied this. She said A handed her a letter at one visit which had said: “Mama, if you’re going to keep drinking, you’ll never have me. She said she was told to write the letter.”
Why had she made negative comments to A about her hair and clothes during access, asked her barrister. It was because her coat had holes in it, replied the mother.
When the case resumed on the next court date, the mother’s barrister said she would go through the list of disclosures made by A which formed part of the Section 23 application, admitting hearsay and containing the allegations.
The mother told the court she was aware of the allegations that A had made against her.
Disclosure 1: The mother’s partner [who had lived with them for two years] had hit her on the bum with a belt and another time whacked her on the head and given her a black eye. Her mother not been able to cover it up with makeup, so she had stayed off school. This man had given her two bad touches and her brother had given her one bad touch. Her mother had still let him stay after it had happened and A had been scared.
The mother told the court that this partner had smacked A twice over the bottom and she had warned him not to.
Disclosure 2: Her brother had come home and seen their mother drinking and had smashed a bottle of vodka. The mother recollected this incident.
Disclosure 3: “You offer to buy her sweets if you can buy drink. You didn’t come home one night in October and [A] had to get up and get herself to school.” “No, I’m always home,” replied the mother.
Disclosure 4: The child had seen a lot of violence in the home. “No, I disagree, there was no violence,” said the mother. Her barrister read out how A had told the social worker that she had been in her bedroom once and she could hear her mother coming up the stairs saying; “Where is that little bitch? If I find her I will put her up onto the wall.” The child had told the social worker that if she was not good her mother would clip her onto the wall with clips for clipping down carpet.
“This is vicious,” said the mother. “I always called her my little dear.”
Disclosure 5: “She said you get angry when she doesn’t eat. One day she got up to leave the table, you starting shaking her and that you hit her a lot that day.” The mother replied that of course she was not happy if she had been cooking and A had not eaten the dinner.
“She also goes on to say that you hit her with a closed fist, her back, her face, the top side of her face and that sometimes when you are drunk you take her by the hair and drag her down the stairs,” said the mother’s barrister.
“No,” replied the mother.
Disclosure 6: That she had brought A along to a hotel, the mother’s partner [Person 1] was there and they were drinking. She had given A an hotel card that did not work and she was lost for two hours in the hotel. She kept knocking on the hotel door and no one answered, she was calling out her mother’s name. “When you opened the door, you said, where were you?”
The mother denied her child had been lost in the hotel, she had been missing for 15 minutes and she had gone to look for her. She admitted they had visitors and they were drinking.
“Why did you bring [A] to the hotel if you are meeting with two men and drinking?” asked her barrister. The mother replied: “I do not see anything wrong, it happened.”
Disclosure 7: There were parties in the house, and during one of which there was an incident where there was violence and there was blood. A said that she was left to clean up the blood and that the mother was drinking a can watching her.
Disclosure 8: “You drink five or six cans every morning. One day she found 20 cans under the bed and six cans down the side of the bed and that you keep throwing them down there.” The mother denied drinking this quantity of alcohol.
The mother’s barrister read out further disclosures regarding incidents of violence, strangers in the house and exposure to emotional abuse. “You used to have parties at the house all the time, there would be strange men at the house, you would be drinking, they would be drinking.”
“I did have visitors,” replied the mother, “but they were always my friends.”
Her barrister put it to her that the men were strangers and this happened a lot and A had really not liked it. The mother disagreed there were strange men in the house.
“Even if you knew them would you not agree that is not something she should have been exposed to,” questioned her barrister.
“She did not see me drinking, she was upstairs,” stated the mother flatly.
Another allegation was that the mother would shout abuse at A when she was drunk, that she would not stop drinking. The mother said she did not recall being angry and had never shouted at her.
There was an allegation that the mother would leave A by herself at Burger King to go and play the slot machines. On one of these occasions she had come back smelling of alcohol and A had been scared of what might happen. The mother denied this.
There were allegations about belts hanging in the kitchen.
The mother denied there were belts in the kitchen.
“She described the belt, the studs…” said the mother’s barrister.
“I don’t know where she is getting this from,” replied the mother. “I never had a belt with studs hanging in the kitchen. It’s easy to describe a belt, it would be easy for her to describe a belt.”
Following on from these allegations, the mother’s barrister put the sexual abuse allegations to the mother in chronological order from the transcripts. All knowledge of the allegations was denied by the mother and she consistently told the court that each one could not have happened.
Her contention was that her child was not the age she said she was in the timeline given, that A had not met some of the alleged perpetrators until she was older and therefore the sexual abuse could not have happened. She denied leaving her child alone with the men or aiding the men as A had described in taking her clothes off, holding her legs down and twisting her arms.
The mother consistently replied: “That never happened”.
She also said: “It could never have happened because he’s a good friend of mine.”
Her barrister repeatedly put it to the mother that the expert’s opinion in terms of the timeline, that “perhaps it didn’t happen when she was four or seven, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen at all, how can you be sure it didn’t happen to your daughter?”
“It’s impossible something could have happened,” the mother told the court.
In relation to [Person 1], her barrister put it to the mother that A had described in some detail what had taken place, that her mother had taken off her clothes and that she had described two separate incidents.
“Can you explain the level of detail?” asked her barrister.
“I can’t explain where it came from,” was the answer.
Regarding [Person 2], although the mother admitted to the man staying overnight on a couple of occasions when they were drinking, she said it was not possible he could have sexually abused A.
In relation to alleged [Person 3], although the mother did admit to leaving A home alone with him on one occasion for 45 minutes she told the court that she could guarantee he had not raped A because he had children of his own.
The mother’s barrister went through each one of the allegations made by the child. She asked the mother about her son’s friend, the teenager who was alleged to have raped A when she stayed overnight at his house.
“No,” responded the mother.
“Is it possible it happened in somebody else’s house?” asked the barrister.
“If you weren’t there, how can you be sure?”
“I know she wasn’t in his house,” answered the mother flatly.
Her barrister then went on to ask about the photos A says were taken of her naked.
“[A] says there were albums of photos in the kitchen in your house and you would take naked photos of [A] when she was six or seven. What do you say to that?”
The mother denied this.
“Not only did you take naked pictures of her but you took lots and lots, you would show her particular poses.”
Again the mother denied it.
The albums, said the barrister, had been shown to a number of men in the house and there were also photos of her brother naked as a child.
“I did not show them because I did not have these pictures,” said the mother.
“She also says you gave her tablets and injections and [her brother] gave her tablets and injections, did you have any tablets in your house and what tablets if you did?”
The mother replied that she had a first aid kit, aspirin and syringes/ampules for a back problem which she had got sent from her home from her family doctor.
Her barrister pointed out there was a correlation in the account because A had stated that the tablets and syringes given to her had come from there.
“[A] said you would give her tablets, injections as well. You would say to take this for the pain, you were saying to her that this was a painkiller and it would make her feel better. But she said she wasn’t in any pain. She couldn’t understand why you were giving it to her,” said the mother’s barrister. “Did you give her tablets and did you inject her?”
The mother said that she did not, just aspirin if she started coughing and cough medicine, she also stated that she did not have any medicine with a sedative effect.
“She says this would have happened on a lot of these occasions these incidents happened, you injected her with a needle into the arm and after that you gave her a tablet, what do you say to that?”
“I never injected her,” answered the mother. “The proof is a doctor’s examination would show this, any injections would leave a scar.”
Her barrister asked her if she had any opinion as to how A had come up with this account. “I have no idea, I find it mind boggling,” the mother replied.
Moving on from the medication, the mother’s barrister then began to question her about details of the oral sexual abuse how A was upset about it. She asked the mother what she thought about this.
“I have no idea,” was the reply.
“She says she was anally raped and you were in the room at the time.”
The mother did not reply.
“If you say you shielded [A] from things to do with menstruation and adult matters how is it that [A] can give, at [this] age, such a detailed account of having been raped and abused, how would [she] have those words if none of this happened?” asked her barrister.
“I have no idea,” responded the mother.
She was asked if she was concerned as to how her daughter could know about these things or give such an account. Silence followed and then the mother replied slowly that she was thinking about it but found it hard to grasp.
At the barest minimum she must have witnessed sexual activity of some description or she could not give an account such as this, pointed out her barrister.
The mother said that she had no idea how A must have witnessed such a thing, she could not have seen her engage in sexual activity and did not have access to the home computer so she had not seen pornography.
“You have heard the conclusions of [the unit] and [the expert] and you have heard the social work department accept that [A] was sexually abused. Can you offer any explanation as to why [she] would have given an account of this?”
“I can guarantee that she was not sexually abused and I do not know where the allegations come from,” was the mother’s reply.
The mother’s barrister put it to her client that the guardian ad litem had raised a concern that she blamed her daughter for “all of this, you blame her for being homeless and everything’s that’s happened.”
“No I didn’t, it’s my fault,” responded the mother. A had never told her she blamed herself.
“Do you accept it’s possible that she is angry or upset because you don’t believe what she has said?”
“I cannot answer the question.”
In direct questioning by her barrister, the mother then denied that she had ever physically abused or emotionally abused her daughter. The only thing she had done was raise her voice once or twice.
Neither had she allowed or participated in A being sexually abused.
She would neither confirm nor deny whether she accepted if A was neglected or suffered neglect in her care, however she did say: “There have been issues.”
The judge then asked her about the alcohol treatment she was receiving and if she thought she had a big problem with alcohol. The mother admitted that yes, it had been a problem but not a big problem, she could stop drinking for eight months and although she did sometimes consume alcohol she always tried to care for her children.
“Do you believe it might have interfered with your care, your alcohol intake?” asked the judge.
“Yes, an intoxicated person can have a bad effect.”
CFA barrister’s cross-examination
The mother had first attended a four week alcohol education service in 2009. She had also attended it twice following her daughter going into care. .
“The type of drinking you say you do, is that alcoholism and is that a problem?” asked the CFA barrister.
“No. Even though I did drink, I didn’t spend my days in bed, I still did what needed to be done.”
“Some people would describe that as a functioning alcoholic, would you describe that as how you would be?”
The mother said she didn’t know how to answer.
The CFA barrister put it to the mother that her son had said his mother had been drinking heavily for about three years. “Alcohol is and was a consistent feature in your life,” said the barrister.
“Everybody parties and drinks,” contended the mother.
The barrister turned to the evening of the ECO and the impact of alcohol on that occasion. The Gardaí and social worker believed that she had been severely intoxicated and had created a row in the house between herself and her son which led to him smashing the bottle of vodka. The barrister asked the mother if she had any thoughts on the impact that would have had on A, it was an example of violence in the home.
The mother replied that there had been no aggression or violence in the home that evening, she told the judge that she had only had one drink, the can in the kitchen had belonged to her son and he had smashed the cans in there too. She had not been drinking in the house that day.
The CFA barrister told the court that the son had told the social worker his mother had been gone for two days, probably at [Person 2’s] house.
The barrister asked her why she had locked her daughter in the house.
“Because she did not want to come with me,” replied the mother.
The barrister spoke about the social worker finding the house in a severe state of neglect, that the child was cold and shivering and there was no heat in the house. Although it was the mother’s contention that she had been waiting for the county council to fix the heat, the barrister told the court that no complaint had been received by them for over a year and they had come out and fixed it at that point.
“Your daughter was shivering.”
“If I am not in the house I turn off the heating.”
“Even if [your child] is in the house? I have to say this is another example of neglect whilst in your care.”
“I’ve no comment.”
The CFA barrister asked the mother if she had some insight into her daughter and why she would say these things. The mother replied that her daughter was lying. She contended that A had been pushed to say the things she had said. The mother said it was important to discern between lies and truth and nothing on the DVD evidence tapes was true apart from the fact A had said she would be told to go to bed at 10pm.
Her child had lied a lot. Her child had started lying and never stopped, she needed a specialist. A had lied so much that she now did not understand the difference between truth and lies. She believed that her daughter now feared the consequences of admitting to lying.
The mother said the stress of going into care and changing school might have brought on a personality problem “and change of mind. It all eventually boils down to the dramatic change, there is a disruption to her psychological behaviour.” She had difficulty discerning what was true and was in limbo.
“She was very consistent, how does that fit in with your theory?” asked the CFA barrister.
“She had created a story and she continues repeating it, the DVDs show it as well. She repeats stuff. I can tell that she was making up stories.”
In relation to being hit by the belt, her daughter was lying. With regard to A having missed 35 days of school, the mother told the court “there was not a single occasion where she wouldn’t go to school because of my fault.”
The case returned three months later and evidence by the mother was resumed. Although listed for the full day, the case did not commence hearing until 2pm as no interpreter had been booked that day and one was not available until the afternoon.
On recommencing cross examination, the CFA barrister put it to the mother that it was the opinion of the CFA that her daughter had suffered sexual abuse whilst in her care, that she had been complicit in it and involved in it. The mother denied it. “This did not happen,” she replied.
“I also have to put it to you that you drugged your daughter and gave her medication prior to the sexual abuse taking place.” The mother denied it.
Over the course of the afternoon the CFA barrister went through each of the disclosures regarding the sexual abuse involving the five men and the two boys. Using both the DVD transcripts and the notes of the disclosures taken by the foster carer the barrister went into specific details given by the child.
In relation to Person 2 and the very specific and explicit detail the child gave about the abuse and it feeling very sore, the barrister put it to the mother that it was very clear the little girl could vividly remember that feeling. She asked the mother why she thought A was “saying this in such detail”.
“I don’t understand why she would say that,” she replied.
“Do you think it could have happened and you not know about it?”
“It could never have happened.” She told the court she knew “the real truth” that it did not happen.
The barrister asked her why her daughter would say this if it did not happen. In reply the mother said that her son had too many friends and that A was jealous of them and “if anything would happen she would say it’s his friends.”
“The explanation that you’ve given doesn’t in any way explain why this child has given this explanation of sexual abuse with [Person 2] and that you were there when it happened and assisted in the abuse.”
“It did not happen.”
Each time the barrister asked the mother to explain vivid accounts of descriptions of touch or sound, specific sensory details, the mother kept replying that it had never happened.
“All of the sexual abuse described by your daughter, you say it never happened.”
The barrister asked her to look at the booklet of evidence which contained the handwritten notes of the foster carer. She asked her to read the section with her interpreter regarding a specific event that A had talked about when she had spent a day with [Person 2].
After five minutes of reading the notes, the barrister asked the mother if the events as described could have occurred, to which the mother replied that [Person 2] had never worn a tracksuit.
Over the course of a further 10 minutes, the mother slowly answered questions about the event. To begin with she said that she did not know if [Person 2] ever took A to a named shopping centre or for a burger, then she answered that he brought A shopping multiple times, then she changed her mind and said he had never brought her, then she changed her mind again and said they did sometimes go shopping together.
“Ok, so what she’s telling there is the truth?” asked the CFA barrister.
“Yes,” replied the mother.
The barrister then asked her to go to the bottom of the page and read the description of how the abuse took place with [Person 2]. The barrister read it aloud and the mother read it with the interpreter. Her facial expression did not change.
Eventually she said: “I don’t understand, this never happened”.
“So you say she did go shopping with [Person 2] but when she’s talking about the sexual abuse it’s just not true?”
“It never happened.”
Following this the mother told the court that she had never seen this booklet of evidence before. Her barrister assured the court that she has read all the documents before the court and this Section 23 evidence had already been opened up in court.
As the CFA barrister asked the mother to read through the foster carer’s notes regarding [Person 1], which give very specific details of the sexual abuse, the mother insisted that she had not seen this evidence before. Her barrister told the court that she had read through them herself with the mother and with an interpreter, however the mother denied this.
Then she conceded “maybe I’ve read a few pages…I was given the opportunity but I haven’t read every single word of this.”
She wanted time to read it through in court with her interpreter and so over the course of the afternoon long gaps ensued during which the mother read sections of the booklets of evidence.
Many questions regarding each of the five men were put to the mother, as well as the two boys. She consistently replied: “It never happened.”
“You’re not allowing for the fact your daughter could be telling the truth,” remarked the CFA barrister.
At one point the mother contended that A is giving the same detail about each of the men. “That isn’t the case,” replied the CFA barrister, “I’m going to go through each of the men. How could a child give such detail? The weight of him, his chest on her belly?”
The details were consistent, said the barrister, A was putting a time and place on things in each of her accounts.
Details surrounding each of the alleged perpetrators, such as a room in a house where one man lived; who the man lived with; a description of what one of the men looked like; people the alleged perpetrators knew in common; how they had come to know another of the men when her mother had fallen one night in a field when she was drunk on the way home with A – the accuracy of these details was acknowledged slowly by the mother, although initially many of these details were rejected. However details regarding any aspects of the abuse itself were denied.
The detail given by A of the belt was confirmed by the mother but she denied that she had used the belt hit the child or that Person 1 had used it.
In the account given by A of being abused by one of the boys, the mother said that it was impossible it could have happened, she would have only gone out of the house to walk the dog and it was not night time.
“You don’t need it to be night time to be sexually abused by somebody,” replied the barrister. “It seems extraordinary that you would believe [the boy], he is a friend of your friend’s son and yet your daughter who you’ve known your whole life, you don’t believe what she’s telling you.”
The hearing finished at that point and when the case resumed 24 days later the mother was not in attendance. Her barrister told the court that her phone was switched off and she could not make contact with her client. At that point the guardian ad litem (GAL) offered to go to the mother’s house in a taxi in order to bring her to court, the judge agreed that was the best plan and the GAL departed.
Within the hour, she returned with the mother who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.
After the mother was sworn in, the judge explained the mother’s privilege against self-recrimination and asked her if she was fully competent to give evidence to which the mother replied that she was. Her barrister told the court that the mother was adamant she was in a position to give evidence.
The mother then resumed cross examination by the CFA barrister, her interpreter was present but she told the court that she understood everything and he did not need to translate anything.
During her evidence the mother consistently denied that her daughter had been sexually abused by any of the alleged perpetrators or that she was injected by her prior to the sexual abuse. She also denied taking photos of her daughter in poses while naked.
“Your daughter seems to feel that you blame her for everything that happened to her,” said the CFA barrister.
“What happened in my family is because I’m drunk,” replied the mother.
“The CFA are seeking a Care Order because your daughter was exposed to sexual abuse while in your care, that you had knowledge of it and that you neglected her and left her alone,” the CFA barrister told her.
She asked the mother if she had been in contact with the men that had been spoken about. The mother replied that they had tried to make contact with her, Person 1 would ring her sometimes wanting news but she had a new life now and did not need him as a friend. The men were very interested in the result of the court case, said the mother. She had not asked them about the allegations because she did not want to know “at the moment my life is different. I have a beautiful man, he loves me, I just want to forget these men.”
“So you don’t want to know what these men have to say?” asked the GAL solicitor.
“No, not interested,” stated the mother.
“Are you interested in knowing whether what [A] said is true?”
“No. I just want to tell you it’s not true.”
Although she admitted that alcohol was a problem, she had never lost control when she was drunk. She told the court she was in control now, she had been drinking yesterday but had not had a drink that morning.
The GAL solicitor asked her, how could she protect her daughter if she did not believe what she had said? She told the court that her daughter was lying because she was jealous of her older brother and his friends, she had never understood her but she understood her now.
This was the third reason offered to the court for her daughter lying, stated the GAL solicitor.
“I haven’t heard one word of empathy for your daughter in all of this hearing. The psychologist has given evidence that he believes the allegations made by your daughter are credible.”
The mother started to shout that she had bought her child presents.
In her final question to the mother, the GAL solicitor put it to her that the men she had left her daughter in the care of were not good friends of hers but drinking buddies that she had now cut out of her life.
“Yes I know this is very bad, just drunk, this is true,” answered the mother.
The judge asked the mother if she had anything further to say before she left the witness box. The mother stood up and asked for another chance, saying she was going to get married and have a big house and she would change. After one year she would come back to court.
Her barrister noted that whatever happened with the current application it was also open to a parent to look to discharge an Order at a later date.
The GAL told the court that when A had first come into care she had been shy and withdrawn and was having difficulties expressing herself and with friendships. Since then she had blossomed in her placement and was getting on really well in school as well as making a good circle of friends. She had also developed a strong relationship with both her carers and felt she belonged to their family. “She calls her foster carers Mum and Dad.”
She was not participating in therapy in relation to the serious disclosures made because she had found it too difficult. At the moment she was in the process of writing a victim impact statement with her social worker in relation to the charges of neglect. She had never tried to retract any of her disclosures.
Over the three years, the GAL had had about 60 visits with the child and some of these were extended visits of up to two hours.
The GAL solicitor asked her about the decision that had been taken to put the interviews at the Unit (providing assessment and therapy for child sexual abuse) on hold in order to progress with the Gardaí interviews instead.
The GAL explained that it had been decided it at the strategy meeting that would be better and less traumatic for A to engage with the Gardaí and that the Gardaí DVDs could then be used by the Unit afterwards for their credibility assessment. However the Unit had refused to work collaboratively with the agencies involved.
The barrister for the mother pointed out that the Unit had not been at the strategy meeting where that decision had been made.
The GAL said she had felt it was very clear that the Unit were to carry out their credibility assessment, however the child’s story was not reflected properly in their report. A paper review of the DVDs by the appointed forensic clinical psychologist was then requested by the GAL and agreed to by all the parties.
There were also concerns about the social work’s department historical handling of the case for five years before the child was taken into care. The mother had had problems with alcohol back then and had left her teenage son at home alone for five weeks when she went out of the jurisdiction with A. This had not been followed up on by the social work department. She believed the standards of child protection were not complied with in the interests of the child.
The GAL was therefore recommending an external review by the Ombudsman for Children as to how the case was managed with regards to the policies and procedures that were followed at the time. Gaps should then be highlighted in order to prevent this happening again.
With regard to the mother, she had been consistent in her denial of A’s allegations and continued to downplay an issues she had with alcohol. She had told the social work department that she had stopped drinking completely but was clearly drunk during meetings with them.
“The meetings always seemed to come around to her needs and how she was suffering,” said the GAL, “they never went around to her daughter.”
The judge asked her if she had any concerns with as to how the Unit had managed the case. The GAL said that the stance that the Unit had taken, not to work collaboratively, was not helpful to the case or to the child. She believed there had been a serious disservice to the child.
Before cross-examining the GAL, the mother’s barrister informed the court that her client was deeply unhappy with regard to the interview process but felt that the review should be a much broader review. “There were a number of mistakes made by a number of people in the interview process,” contended the barrister.
As the child had stated she had been raped by a number of men, which was a serious criminal offence, it was obvious from the outset, said the mother’s barrister, that the Gardaí would need to interview A before the Unit. The Gardaí had to undertake an Achieving Best Evidence interview (ABE) for forensic purposes which involved a particular procedure incorporating different interviewing techniques to that of a credibility assessment which was what the Unit would carry out.
“It should have been obvious to you and the social work team that she would have to be interviewed by the Guards, that was a serious misstep as [the forensic psychologist] said, to start her with [the Unit], to then have a meeting in the absence of [the Unit] to revert her to the Guards, it was not in her best interests.”
The GAL said that it had all been explained to A and at the time she felt it was ok for the child to start the interviews with the Gardai instead.
However the mother’s barrister pointed out that the forensic psychologist had said “the fact [A] said it was fine was not the point”. A total of 11 interviews took place, including two clarification interviews, and six interviews with the Garda child specialist interviewer, taking 6.25 hours in total over three days. This was excessive in terms of her best interests.
The GAL accepted this.
“If a clear plan had been done she wouldn’t have been put through two sets of interviews and there would have been a better outcome with regard to the Garda interviews,” remarked the mother’s barrister.
Nobody from the Unit was at the strategy meeting and it was presented to them as a decision already made. The adults in charge were therefore clearly not all working together and the Unit had been asked to take a step back, so they did, said the barrister.
The GAL said she believed it was open to the Unit to work in a collaborative way.
In relation to the duration of each interview, with two interviews being held by the Gardaí per day, the mother’s barrister put it to the GAL that one of the many criticisms by the forensic psychologist was that it was not appropriate to interview a child for that length of time when there was no urgency.
The GAL informed the barrister that she had brought this up with the child and the child’s memory was that she had been in charge of the process and she had wanted to tell her story. The barrister replied that the outcome was a less reliable narrative.
“I put it to him [the forensic psychologist] that there was no prosecution and he said the way the interviews were conducted wouldn’t stand up in court. It’s not simply about whether the child is happy or not, it’s about the reliability of what you get,” said the mother’s barrister.
The GAL replied that she understood that but she had to see it from the child’s point of view and at no stage had she brought any concerns forward to her.
“She is a child,” stated the barrister, “my understanding is that [the forensic psychologist] is the expert, you asked for his opinion, he is the professional and is highly critical of the process.”
During Garda interviews 3,4,5, and 6 there was little evidential value, there was little forensic purpose, said the barrister. The GAL said she accepted this.
The barrister enquired as to why A was sent back to the Unit at all, whereby the GAL explained it was for completion of the credibility assessment and to decide on what therapy she would need.
“The [expert’s] view was that she should not have been interviewed further at all,” said the mother’s barrister.
“Yes,” confirmed the GAL. She accepted later in evidence that there should not have been further interviews.
“The interview process from start to finish was flawed. The manner in which this was advanced was flawed and something should be learnt in terms of future cases as to how these interviews should be advanced,” the mother’s barrister put to the GAL.
“Yes,” replied the GAL.
“Everybody with a stake in this should have sat together in a room and asked and determined how do we best advance with for [A] so we get the best outcome in terms of a Garda interview, credibility assessment and minimising interviews, with a psychologist present,” contended the mother’s barrister.
The GAL told her that a strategy meeting had taken place but without a psychologist where the decision was made that the less traumatic way to proceed was for the Guards to take control of the interviews.
The mother’s barrister replied that she had meant a strategy meeting at the very beginning of the process before anything took place at all. “It should have been manifestly obvious to the child professionals involved that if what the child was saying was true there were serious child protection criminal offences.”
The GAL solicitor put it to her that the problem in Ireland was an absence of a multidisciplinary approach to interviewing children.
The GAL then outlined to the court a multidisciplinary approach in the US with regard to interviewing sexually abused children. In the US model there was on one interview, carried out by a specially trained person with a background in child protection.
While that person interviewed the child, all the relevant parties watched the interview take place from behind a screen and the child was informed of this. These parties included the police, the social worker, the therapist, the prosecuting solicitor and any other relevant parties. The interview had a particular process which was a narrative approach and non-directive, explained the GAL.
At the end of the interview, any other questions from the team are given to the interviewer after a discussion with him/her.
The purpose of the interview was for the criminal prosecution as well as for child care proceedings, it also encompassed the credibility assessment.
The barrister for the CFA told the judge of the UK model where the police take the lead with an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) approach with the intention of seeing whether charges can be brought. There was no real psychological input. There was an imbalance in their system with the focus on the forensic side and less on the therapeutic process. The intention with the UK model had been that there should be a joint approach but in fact there was a much greater focus on the criminal side, said the CFA barrister.
It was the case here, said the mother’s barrister, that the Gardaí always took precedence. The GAL agreed.
In the forensic expert’s report, his opinion had been that the Gardaí interview process had had a significant adverse impact on the child’s well-being, distorting her narrative. Nevertheless the core had been credible, said the mother’s barrister.
The judge commented that there was no effective written policy in place in relation to the whole interviewing process.
The barrister for the CFA informed the court that a meeting had taken place between the CFA and the Unit. “With the new children’s hospital there will be a new children’s service on this issue, involving the CFA, the social workers, the Gardaí and [the Unit].”
“It seems to take an awful long time to create a policy that works for people,” remarked the judge.
“There was an unfortunate breakdown of communication in this case,” continued the CFA barrister, “and this has been addressed by the CFA.”
In relation to access, the GAL told the court that A had not seen her mother since the full Care Order hearing began six months earlier and did not want access until the court had completed the case. When she had begun to make disclosures eight months after going into care she had requested to have no access and that had lasted two years. The mother was then open to access recommencing when the child was ready.
The case finished hearing.
The judge told the parties that the case had been spaced out over six months and that she would not be making the decision that day on the Care Order application.
“I’m not here to make a general ruling in relation to policies and procedures. I’m here to deal with the welfare of [A], which will involve me making comment on what I have found as facts with regards as to how [A] was treated and what happened to her, in her home and under the care of the Agency, during her interviews with the Gardaí and [the Unit’s] process. I must make comment on all those matters in as formed a fashion as possible.”
A decision, she said, had to be given with reasons and set out in writing. “These matters take time,” observed the judge. There was “a High Court ruling that when you get a decision you are entitled to a reason.”
She concluded saying: “I’m mindful of the fact I would prefer to make the decision today but believe that I am not in that position.”
Giving her decision later, the judge first outlined the basis for her ruling on the admissibility of the hearsay evidence. She then outlined the evidence given in the case, and granted a Care Order until the age of 18 for the child, which she said corresponded to the risks to her welfare and was proportionate.
She made a number of findings of fact, including: “On the totality of the evidence presented to this Court, I find as a fact on the balance of probabilities that while in the care of the respondent mother, this child suffered physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual abuse and that the respondent mother denied and continued to deny throughout the hearing what the Court has now found as a fact and offered as an explanation that the child was a liar, that she was being coached and that it was made up,” she said.
She went through all the allegations in detail, and then stated: “It is the finding of this Court that it is extremely unlikely that a child who had not been abused would be able to give an account as detailed as that of the child or display the behaviour associated with the allegations. It is further the finding of this Court that the central narrative of the child’s account is authentic and her presentation was largely congruous with her allegations.”
The judge was critical of the lack of coordination between the Garda Siochana and St Louise’s Unit, contrary to best practice guidelines, and she stated: “There is no evidence before this Court on this particular case that there was a comprehensive coordinated response and a joint agency approach by St Louise’s Unit with An Garda Síochána or by the Garda Síochána with St Louise’s Unit to comprehensively meet the requirements of this individual child, such as, for example, consideration of joint interviewing with input from an appropriately qualified professional such as psychologist or psychiatrist.”
In conclusion, she said: “I believe that it is a duty on this Court to now address the child, the subject of the proceedings, to wish her very well in her future and to acknowledge the resilience and brilliance this child has displayed in the facts that I have found in this case. I applaud this child for her resilience, I wish her good fortune and I want this child to know that this Court has endeavoured to act in her best interests in reaching this decision. I want the guardian ad litem and the dedicated social worker to ensure that this child is informed of the terms of this decision in a manner that ensures her welfare and wellbeing.”