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Monday 22 September 2014

'GPO girl' has convictions for fraud – and 40 different aliases

Paul Williams and Aodhan O'Faolain

Published 07/11/2013 | 21:30

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THE mysterious 'GPO girl' identified as 25-year-old Australian Samantha Azzopardi has convictions for fraud offences and up to 40 different aliases.

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The Irish Independent has learned that the woman is well-known to police in New South Wales and has been involved in similar circumstances to the one in Dublin when she was found wandering the streets.

A psychiatric evaluation of Ms Azzopardi was ordered yesterday and a court is expected to decide today whether she will remain in HSE care.

Gardai will now have to decide on whether to charge the Australian woman with wasting police time.

While security sources confirmed that Ms Azzopardi had mental health issues, they revealed that she had convictions for fraud, deception, false pretences and using forged documents in Australia. She has also been convicted of giving false names and impersonation.

Her most recent court appearance was in October, 2012, when she was convicted of fraud and deception offences for claiming benefits she was not entitled to.

She was given a suspended six-month prison sentence at the time.

A senior source said: "From enquiries made in Australia, a picture is emerging of a Walter Mitty-type character who assumes a persona . . . It may explain why she did not want her picture released by the gardai.

"She also has in-depth knowledge of police procedures. She has done this kind of thing before. This is a 'catch me if you can' scenario although it is accepted that she has psychiatric issues."

Ms Azzopardi came to Ireland to visit relatives in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, three weeks before she was found wandering in a distressed state outside the GPO on Dublin's O'Connell Street on October 10.

She is described as being of extremely light build, weighing just 40kg, which convinced gardai and care workers that she was in fact a teenager.

It was only when gardai released a photograph of the mystery girl on Tuesday – following a legal wrangle with the HSE – that she was identified by Irishman Joe Brennan.

Mr Brennan is not related to her but it is understood had been involved in a relationship with her mother Joanna and she had stayed in the house for a while.

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The house in Prior Park was not occupied last night and Mr Brennan has gone to stay with relatives. His family are very well-known and respected in the Clonmel area.

The costs of the investigation were "huge" according to sources. A dedicated team of detectives had followed up 115 lines of enquiry during 2,000 man hours.

At the same time, armed officers were deployed from Store Street station to protect the girl around the clock.

She purported to have very little English and sketches she drew led gardai to fear she was a victim of trafficking.

The saga cost the State at least €200,000 in legal fees alone, after the HSE went to the High Court to try to stop them releasing her photograph to help identify her.

"The HSE fought tooth and nail to prevent this lady's picture being published and as a result there were three teams of counsel hired while the case was being heard," a senior source told the Irish Independent.

The High Court ruled yesterday that Ms Azzopardi would remain in HSE care until at least this morning.

Mr Justice George Birmingham was informed that the young woman may be suffering from a psychiatric condition.

Felix McEnroy, SC for the woman's court-appointed guardian, said that while it was accepted she was not a minor, a "temporary vacuum" should not be created allowing the woman to leave where she is currently in care.

"If such a door was opened" it could "put her life at risk," he said.

Mr Justice Birmingham said he was prepared to discharge the care orders – but in the woman's interests, he was placing a stay on the discharge until today when the matter comes back before the court.

Irish Independent

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