Courts

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Ex-pupil suing school 'suffers from post traumatic stress and depression,' psychiatrists tell court

Woman suing her former school and the gardai over being wrongly accused of extortion when she was a Junior Certificate student

Published 03/07/2014|17:54

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Lydia O'Hara
Lydia O'Hara

A WOMAN suing her former school and the gardai over being wrongly accused of extortion when she was a Junior Certificate student suffers from post traumatic stress and depression as a result of the incident, two psychiatrists told the High Court yesterday.

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However, another psychiatrist on behalf of the school, Scoil Chriost Ri in Portlaoise, says Lydia O'Hara suffers from a borderline personality disorder - which was disputed by one of the other two doctors.

A judge and jury heard the evidence on on the third day of Ms O'Hara's action against the school and the Garda Commissioner for alleged wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and the infliction of emotional and physical harm as a result of the false accusation being made against her in March 2004.

The claims are denied.

The court has heard Ms O'Hara (now 25) was outside the school principal's office waiting to get permission to go home early as she was feeling unwell.

Unknown to her, two gardai were in the school having set up a "sting"to catch her for allegedly extorting €20 a week from another pupil who, it turned out, had made up the allegation against Ms O'Hara.

She says the other pupil, who never returned to the school after the incident, had placed a marked €20 note, given to her by the gardai, under her bag when she left it on the floor outside the office to go find the principal in the yard.

When she returned, she was asked the pick up her bag and the money and go into the principal's office where she was accused of extortion and read her rights by gardai before her parents were called. She was told by gardai four hours later the girl had made up the allegation.

She claims gardai should have monitored the movements of both her and the other girl on the morning of the incident and this would have established her innocence straight away.   She would not then have gone through an ordeal which she says has ruined her life, made her suicidal, prone to panic attacks in public and to self harm.

Yesterday, Dr Mary Bridget O'Brien, consultant psychiatrist in the HSE's Portlaoise mental health centre which Ms O'Hara started attending in 2006, said she would "absolutely dispute" an assessment by Dr Patricia Casey, who will give evidence for the school, that Ms O'Hara suffers from a borderline personality disorder.

Dr O'Brien earlier told Cormac Quinn BL, for Ms O'Hara, she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of an exceptionally catastrophic event in her life which was the false accusation.

She believed the incident caused a blow to her self confidence and to her trust in others.  She also developed a mild depressive disorder, for which she is on medication, a mild anxiety disorder and agoraphobia.

Under cross-examination from Niall Beirne SC, for the school, Dr O'Brien agreed she did well in her Junior Cert with nine honours.

While she also did well in her Leaving Cert, getting four honours and three passes, she told the doctor she felt she had underperformed because she did not go on to study nursing which was her ambition.

Dr O'Brien said Ms O'Hara had not told her she had taken an overdose of paracetamol the year before the incident over the death from meningitis of one of her schoolfriends.  Asked was this an important factor to consider in relation to her condition after the false accusation, Dr O'Brien believed the overdose incident would have made her more vulnerable.

In relation to the assessment of Dr Casey that she had a borderline personality disorder, Dr O'Brien disagreed because such a condition was part of one's personality whereas her depression and PTSD had a beginning.

Asked if she thought it usual that a disorder would last for ten years, particularly where the finger of suspicion had been lifted so quickly, Dr O'Brien said she was not sure whether it was usual but one had to look at the criteria for the catastrophic event which occurred when she was just 15.  In her experience such an event would be traumatic enough at a critical point in the life of a teenager.

Dr Paul McQuaid, a psychiatrist with 50 years experience in private and public practice, said he diagnosed her as suffering from a mild form of PTSD and she also showed signs of mild depression.  He believed she was "greatly affected" by what happened to her in 2004.

The hearing continues.

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