Wednesday 29 July 2015

Samantha Azzopardi (25) has conviction for deception

Australian woman has family connections in Tipperary and is not a victim of human trafficking

By Shane Phelan and Ken Foy

Published 06/11/2013 | 12:11

Superintendent David Taylor of the Garda Press Office and Orla Ryan, Guardian Ad Litem of the girl with a Garda hand out picture of the Australian woman
Superintendent David Taylor of the Garda Press Office and Orla Ryan, Guardian Ad Litem of the girl with a Garda hand out picture of the Australian woman
Spt David Taylor with image release of teenage girl found outside GPO in October

The mystery girl identified by gardai as an Australian adult has a previous conviction for deception in her native country.

The woman, Samantha Azzopardi, illegally tried to draw social welfare benefits payments and received a six month prison sentence, independent.ie has learned.

However, the sentence, handed down late last year, was suspended for 12 months.

The revelation comes as gardai continue to liaise with their Australian counterparts about the woman, who was taken into HSE care after being discovered in a distressed state outside the GPO on Dublin's O'Connell Street on October 10.

Initially officers believed she was aged 14 to 16. But they have now confirmed she is actually 25 years old.

The woman is believed to have up to 40 different aliases.

Samantha Azzopardi is to be assessed this afternoon by a psychiatrist.

Lawyers were at the High Court today where Mr Justice George Birmingham discharged the order that he had made allowing her to be detained under the Childcare Act.
But he put a stay on the discharge until tomorrow morning to allow other arrangements to be put in place.

The case is be mentioned in court tomorrow morning. It is hoped the assessment by a psychiatrist this afternoon will allow authorities to decide what steps to take next.

The court heard she is "vulnerable" and she is to remain in HSE care for at least another 24 hours as her "life could be at risk" if she is released.

Gardai revealed in court today that she been in Ireland for three weeks before she was found wandering around in a distressed state outside the GPO.

Ms Azzopardi  was initially believed to have been a teenager victim and could not communicate with gardai.

However, it has now emerged she has family connections in Tipperary and officers are satisfied that she is not a victim of human trafficking.

The Herald understands a man, who is not a relative, made contact with detectives yesterday afternoon.

“He was able to tell them who she was and supply details about her  family,” explained a source.

It is believed that Samantha (25) was living with relatives in Clonmel, Tipperary.

The massive breakthrough came just hours after gardai released a photograph of the young woman.

Sources said that the Australian citizen is thought to have travelled here via the United Kingdom.

“She does understand English and can articulate in writing English, but she won't speak,” said a source close to the investigation.

“She is not talking. There is some written communication coming from her, but only bits and pieces.”

The woman had refused to allow herself to be photographed and the images of her issued yesterday are understood to have been taken without her knowledge.

A source close to the case said: “She is very disturbed. It would appear there is something very serious going on here.”

A garda spokesperson confirmed: “With the assistance of the public, the Gardai are now following a definite line of enquiry and will be liaising closely with the Australian Police and the HSE to finalise the matter.”

The Australian Federal Police are working with Gardai, and would not confirm any reports on her identity, DNA tests or aliases.

A spokesman for Australian Police said there are potential mental health issues so there are important privacy issues in place.

The identification of the 25-year-old woman followed an unprecedented move by gardai to publish a photograph of a person in State care.

More than 2,000 hours of garda time has been devoted to trying to identify the woman and there have been more than 100 separate lines of inquiry by officers.

INVESTIGATORS

In all, 15 possible names were given to investigators but none of the names were correct when they were checked out.

There are reports in Australia this morning that a member of the girl’s family has now made contact with the gardai.

When she was found in a distressed state near the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell Street on October 10, the woman was wearing clothes from Irish department stores and had braces fitted.

While in State care, she rarely spoke but did sketch pictures of being taken on an aircraft. She gave officers no indication of her origins.

hnews@herald.ie

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