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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Mystery woman Samantha's armed security cost €350,000

Bill blamed on lack of safe accommodation

Samantha Azzopardi
Samantha Azzopardi
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

THE huge bill for garda overtime for protecting the Australian woman who was suspected of being a sex slave was caused by the lack of safe accommodation for victims of trafficking.

Samantha Azzopardi, who refused to speak and made infantile drawings that appeared to depict sexual abuse, was placed on 24-hour armed guard by gardai over fears she was a victim of traffickers.

Some 2,200 hours of overtime were racked up – on top of a massive amount of regular working time by a team of up to 30 gardai.

The operation cost "at least" €350,000 garda sources said last week.

Ms Azzopardi arrived at Sydney International Airport late on Friday night (Irish time) it has been confirmed in the company of two garda officers.

From the outset gardai wanted to publish the woman's photograph to raise international awareness but were prevented from doing so because of the High Court's insistence that they could only do so once she was in secure and safe accommodation and in the care of the HSE.

There is no such state accommodation and gardai were forced to keep Ms Azzopardi, who suffers from a mental disorder, under armed guard in Temple Street Children's Hospital believing she was much younger than her 25 years. She had no identification on her when she was found by gardai wandering on O'Connell Street.

Within hours of the High Court finally agreeing to the publishing of her photograph, three weeks after she was first found outside the GPO in a distressed and confused state, she was identified.

It then emerged she had spent two months staying with her mother's former partner in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Gardai were angry last week at having to bear the brunt of criticism over what turned into a fiasco when Ms Azzopardi's true identity emerged.

Officers wanted to issue her photograph within two days of finding Ms Azzopardi.

And sources said the fact that gardai were left in sole charge of Ms Azzopardi highlighted the deficiencies in the state system for protecting victims of trafficking.

Ireland should provide safe accommodation under Article 12 of the Council of Europe's Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. The Government has been criticised by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) which, in response to a review of provisions to help victims of trafficking, last year pointed out the lack of safe accommodation.

In its response to a Department of Justice review of the provisions for victims of trafficking, the Immigrant Council said: "Direct provision accommodation provided by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) to asylum seekers is considered appropriate for Victims Of Trafficking (VOT) by the Irish Government.

"The ICI wish to highlight a number of reasons that they believe it is inappropriate for VOT who have already been subjected to highly traumatising violations of their human rights, including sexual exploitation, and that the present arrangements contravene (Council of Europe's) Article 12.

"These essential supports and services include high security from traffickers, service provision, including risk assessment and support to allow the VOT to be safe and to feel safe in order to recover and make an informed decision about the future, including whether to co-operate with the police in an investigation."

In its review of Ireland's provisions for trafficking, the Department of Justice pointed out that there had been some 600 meetings to co-ordinate a response to trafficking.

It did not highlight the fact that the State has yet to provide any form of safe accommodation to protect victims.

Garda sources said last week that all the State could provide in response to Ms Azzopardi's perceived plight was either a foster home or a HSE hostel from which flight would be easy and also there was no protection against abduction.

Sunday Independent

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