Thursday 19 October 2017

'Not just shocking, but a scandal' - Judge approves €6.3m settlement package for 'Grace'

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Aodhan O'Faolain

A HSE-funded settlement package worth some €6.3m for the woman with serious intellectual disabilities known as “Grace” has been approved by the High Court.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, described the treatment of Grace by the relevant health board and State agencies over some 20 years up until 2009 as a “not just shocking, but a scandal”.

Grace in 2009 cut “a sad figure” who was voiceless, dirty, unkempt and whose only possession was a child’s toy which she held onto “for dear life” and still clings to, he said.  Her condition has greatly improved since, he was pleased to note.

This case was about trying to put right the wrongs done to Grace while in the custody of a state agency, he said.

While money was no compensation for what Grace suffered, it was “the best the law can do” and the settlement would ensure she would be properly looked after and have some of the comforts she is entitled to.

For reasons unknown to this day, a recommendation in 1996 that Grace be moved from the care of a foster family was not acted on and was later reversed with the effect she remained with them for some 20 years, he said.

The foster family had made representations to the Minister for Health and he wondered what “extraordinary hold” they had which got the health board to behave as they did and reverse the decision to move Grace  “in the teeth” of all the advice of those dealing with Grace and the relevant professionals, he said.

He noted there was suggestions of sexual abuse in relation to the family and the evidence was Grace was not properly physically looked after while in their care.

Had a commission of investigation not been set up into this matter, he may have taken a different view whether to approve the settlement before getting answers to these and other issues.

All those things needed to be answered and he the commission “would get to the bottom of this”.

The health board had abdicated all responsibility for Grace, he said.

He also noted it as clear consideration was given over some years that Grace should be made a ward of court but that was not done for years because of an apparent fear that, if she was made a ward, the court would want explanations for what was happening, he noted. The court would have wanted such explanations but rather than face that, the unfortunate and voiceless Grace was left where she was.

The catalyst for change came from two social workers and he wished to pay particular tribute to one of those, the judge said.

Grace was ultimately made a ward of court in 2009 when she was in her thirties and this action was taken in 2014 by the solicitor appointed as the committee to represent her personal and financial interests.

As part of the settlement of that case, Sara Moorhead SC , for the committee, said much of the settlement is intended to ensure Grace receives appropriate lifelong care into the future after what the HSE accepted were very serious failings over 20 years in her past care.

Also as part of the settlement, the HSE also apologised unreservedly today for its failings and said the care she received while in the care of the foster family fell “far short of what she was entitled to”.

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