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Monday 22 September 2014

Schoolgirl accused fellow student of extortion to cover for stealing from family, court hears

Published 09/07/2014 | 17:21

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Lydia O'Hara
Lydia O'Hara

THE girl who falsely accused former student Lydia O'Hara of extortion did it as cover for stealing from her family over a number of months, the High Court heard.

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In a statement to gardai, the then 14-year-old second year student falsely claimed she paid around €1,000 over six months to school bullies with the stolen money and with withdrawals from her credit union.

The evidence was given on the sixth day of Ms O'Hara's action against her former school, Scoil Chriost Ri in Portlaoise, and against the Garda Commissioner for reckless and intentional infliction of emotional harm after she was falsely accused in March 2004.

The court also heard yesterday from consultant psychiatrist Patricia Casey who disputed evidence from two other psychiatrists that Ms O'Hara was suffering from mild post traumatic stress as a result of the incident.

Prof Casey, for the school, said she was suffering from depressive illness which could have been triggered by a number of other incidents in her life before the extortion allegation.

Prof Casey also said, under cross examination, she was not sure whether Ms O'Hara had borderline personality disorder but it was possible from her assessment of her.

Garda Anthony Ryan, Portlaoise juvenile liaison officer, told the court the girl who made up the accusation, referred to as "Ms A", was repeatedly asked, while she was giving her statement, if she was telling the truth.  She was adamant she was, he said.

In her statement to gardai, "Ms A" said she got a fright after her mother found a €60 withdrawal slip from her credit union under her mattress.

She said she had been bullied since the previous October and it "all started when I gave Lydia O'Hara the lend of a Euro for the tuck shop" and she (Lydia) said she would give it back.

When Ms A asked for it back, she alleged Lydia said "did you think I was serious" and demanded more money.  Ms A said she had heard Lydia had beaten people up and she was afraid of her.

She was approached by Lydia the next day and the money was demanded and two of Lydia's friends were there and sought a split of the cash so that they "would not tell", the statement claimed.

This continued for a number of months and she got the money from her father's pockets and from her mother and sister's purses before eventually taking it out of her credit union account.   She claimed the hand over of money was mostly in the school bike shed.

The court heard that then Garda John Healy, now a sergeant, provided Ms A with a marked €20 note for the bike shed handover but it was instead placed under Ms O'Hara's schoolbag by Ms A

Garda Ryan said he had not known anything before the matter until the principal Helen O'Donnell called him about it and it was decided to immediately investigate it.

Asked by Martin Giblin SC, for Ms O'Hara, if he would not have immediately suspected Ms A might be a "skillful liar" because she had been stealing from her family for so many months, Garda Ryan said he was satisfied at that point (when she was giving the statement) that she was telling the truth.  She had been crying and her mother "was 140pc that she was telling the truth", he also said.

Asked if he thought it was "good practice" to give a formal pre-arrest caution to a 15-year-old without her parents present, as had happened to Lydia in the principal's office, he said he did because "you could be asked the opposite" if it was not done.

Garda Fiona McGrath, who was in the school with Sgt Healy on the day the marked €20 note was supposed to be handed over, said she had no input into the operation but she agreed they could not see the bike shed where the transaction was supposed to have taken place.

Garda McGrath said when she and Sgt Healy visited Ms A's home at lunchtime that day when the girl admitted the lie, she was asked why she picked on Lydia and replied she had "no reason" and that other reasons were "domestic issues".

Garda McGrath read from notes taken by Sgt Healy, who the court heard was abroad, in which he recorded that Ms A admitted making up the lie "as a cover for stealing money at home".

The case continues before a judge and jury.

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