Sunday 26 October 2014

Sisters of Charity fail to stop legal action concerning alleged rape and sexual assault by former employee

Published 28/02/2014 | 17:51

An open verdict was returned at the inquest into the death of a Belgian student who "most probably" had taken cyanide

THE Sisters of Charity have failed to stop a legal action in which it is alleged they are liable for alleged rape and sexual assault of a schoolgirl by a groundsman allegedly employed in a Magdalene laundry.

It is claimed she was so traumatised by the assaults on her when aged 12 to 15 that, in a desperate effort to stop the groundsman accosting her on her way to and from school, she once hammered her knee with a paperweight to such an extent she was hospitalised and thus avoided going to school for a time.

Her life has been severely affected by her experience.

She changed from being a happy normal child who liked school to one who became self-destructive, left school early and developed alcohol, medication and relationship problems, it is claimed.

Now in her 40s, the woman alleges the Sisters of Charity are vicariously liable for severe personal injuries and emotional suffering arising from the assaults of the groundsman alleged to have occurred in a hut and shed in the grounds of the laundry between the years 1977-1980.

The man is believed to be dead.

In a pre-trial application to stop the case, the Sisters of Charity argued they are prejudiced defending it on grounds including delay and having no records of the groundsman. 

They also said the woman's claims are subject to a garda investigation which has not yet concluded as it has not proven possible to establish if the groundsman had died.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Max Barrett said, while the 29-year delay bringing the case was inordinate, it was "far from inexcusable" as it seemed this woman had never escaped from the dominion of her alleged abuser.

Her statement of claim, which was not challenged by the Sisters for the purposes of the pre-trial application only, suggested "a sorry picture of a long-suffering woman" who has lived her life in the shadow of what she claimed was repeatedly done to her by the groundsman. 

There was much material before the court to excuse the delay, he said.

He also considered the balance of justice lay in allowing the case proceed. 

While the alleged abuser may be dead, his alleged employer remains extant and it would seem contrary to the principles of justice and fairness that the chance of his death should offer the Sisters the chance to escape liability, if such liability arises, he said.

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