Monday 20 August 2018

Child witness in abuse case told he couldn’t bring his teddy bear

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Stock image

Laura Lynott

A child witness in a court hearing was unable to carry his teddy bear into a video link room after the defence argued he could have used the toy to symbolise “vulnerability”.

Eve Farrelly, manager of the child accompaniment support service for Children at Risk in Ireland, told how the young witness who had “asked to bring his teddy bear in” to the room, was told to “leave the teddy bear out of sight of the screen” as the defence legal team had argued it could have been used to “highlight the child’s vulnerability.”

“In the end it was decided he had enough on his plate without managing where the teddy bear was placed, so it didn’t go in,” Ms Farrelly said.

She was highlighting how child victims are not dealt with in the most compassionate way by the Irish legal system at the opening of a conference on the EU Victims’ Directive, hosted by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, the Bar Council and the Law Society in Dublin yesterday.

Ms Farrelly said lengthy delays within the court system were adding to the “trauma” suffered by child abuse victims.

She said only six out of 36 recent cases had started on the date they were set for. This had caused issues for families taking time off school and work and added to their emotional turmoil.

Among the reasons for delays were there was “no judge on the day” or the defence had raised a matter resulting in a delay to proceedings.

Ms Farrelly said one nine-year-old child who had been abused had waited two years for his case to be heard. The defendant was ultimately found guilty.

A girl also waited two years for a case to be completed. By the time she gave her evidence she was 19. Because she was no longer a minor, she was unable to give evidence by video link and had to sit close to the alleged offender, who was in the end found not guilty, Ms Farrelly said.

Maeve Lewis, chief executive of child abuse charity One in Four, told the conference 11 of 31 cases the charity supported complainants with, had resulted in not guilty verdicts.

She said last year the charity had assisted 31 sexual abuse complainants through the criminal justice system.

Some cases are still proceeding through court but 11 so far have ended with not guilty verdicts, while eight resulted in convictions and three resulted in guilty pleas.

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