Wednesday 18 October 2017

Australian woman Samantha (25) not a victim of trafficking

A 25 year old woman who was feared to have been a teenager trafficked into Ireland will be reunited with her family in the coming days.

The woman, who gardai and the HSE had initially believed to be 14 years of age, is currently under the care of the HSE.

However, plans are now underway to reunite the woman with her family.

Australian TV Channel 7 said police in Brisbane have contacted the woman's family to collect DNA in order to formally confirm her identity. has the woman's full name but will not be publishing it.

The breakthrough in the case came last night after gardai took the unprecedented step of publishing a photo of the woman, who is called Samantha. It was initially feared she had been trafficked into the country.

Officers had thought she was aged between 14 and 16 and from somewhere in Europe.

But it has now emerged she is 19 or 20, or possibly even older, and had been in Ireland for a couple of months by the time she came to garda attention on October 10.

After saturation coverage of the girl's case on television and the internet yesterday, a male acquaintance who knows her family in Australia contacted a special incident room at Store Street station that had been set up to discover her identity.

A senior garda said: "We can now confirm that the lady was not trafficked here and had in fact travelled here some months ago."

It is understood she may have travelled here on her own and was staying in the Dublin area when she was discovered in a distressed state outside the GPO on O'Connell Street. Gardai are liaising with Australian police, who were last night contacting relatives of the woman.

The development brings to a close Operation Shepard, a massive investigation involving over 2,000 man hours and 115 separate lines of inquiry over the past four weeks.

The woman is to remain in the care of the HSE, as concerns remain for her welfare.

Despite the revelation that she was not trafficked, gardai and HSE officials still believe she may have suffered from some sort of traumatic event and will require ongoing care.

The woman is said to be "extremely traumatised" and refused to speak to gardai and healthcare workers after being taken into care.

She is being cared for in a Dublin hospital where HSE staff are carrying out a specialist assessment.

Gardai had originally believed she may have been trafficked here from continental Europe.

The woman appeared traumatised and efforts to confirm her identity were hampered by her refusal to speak.

Her only form of communication was to write short notes in English and draw pictures, some of which gave the impression she was a victim of abuse.

"She does understand English and can articulate in writing in English, but she won't speak," said a source close to the investigation.

"She is not talking. There is some written communication coming from her, but only bits and pieces."

The woman refused to allow herself to be photographed and the images of her issued yesterday are understood to have been taken without her knowledge.

A source close to the case said: "She is very disturbed. It would appear there is something very serious going on here."

Another source with knowledge of the garda probe said the girl was "fretful of any engagement with officialdom" and "extremely nervous" around anyone dressed in a uniform.

"There is no doubt she has been the victim of some traumatic event of some sort," the source said.

Investigators and the HSE are currently at loggerheads over what sort of treatment the girl should receive.

Gardai and a court appointed guardian, Orla Ryan, want her to be cared for in a secure unit.

However, the HSE is pushing for her to be cared for in a lower security setting outside of Dublin, as it believes this would be in her best interests from a therapeutic perspective.

Ultimately, a court will decide where she will be treated.

At a press conference in Dublin yesterday, gardai revealed their inquiries had thrown up 15 possible names for the girl.

However, each of these leads proved to be dead ends.

Several hours later a call came through to the incident room from a man saying he knew the girl and her family.

Gardai were soon able to confirm the woman's identity with Australian authorities and are satisfied the information provided by the man is correct.

Officers had gone to great lengths to establish the woman's identity.

The investigation had involved door-to-door enquiries, on-street vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints near where the girl was discovered, and the seizure and viewing of CCTV.

Images of the woman were distributed on the internal garda computer system, and checks were made at ports, airports and train stations.

Bed and breakfasts and guesthouses in Dublin city centre were also checked.

Her photo was circulated to international police forces via Interpol.

The woman was found wearing braces and paediatric orthodontists around the country were canvassed. However, no information which might identify the young woman was found until yesterday evening.

A source close to the investigation said: "We are glad that this woman has finally been identified. The gardai and the HSE will continue to work together in her best interests."

Shane Phelan

Irish Independent

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