Thursday 20 September 2018

Dublin couple jailed after child tied to bed upright, and not allowed to sleep

*Warning this article contains testimony some readers may find difficult

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Sonya McClean

A Dublin couple have been jailed for a total of three years and three months for the systematic neglect and physical abuse of the man's young daughter over the course of a year.

The now 16-year-old had 46 separate injuries, including puncture marks, bruises, scratch marks and cuts, all over her body when she was examined by medical practitioners in 2008 as a six-year-old girl, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court was told.

The child told gardaí that her father never hit her nor was he present when she was hit. He was working most of the time when his partner beat her and mistreated her.

It was the State's case that he knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

The girl's parents, who were both heroin addicts, had separated when she was five years old and her father moved in with the accused, who was also an addict, the following year.

The 37 year-old woman pleaded guilty to nine sample charges of wilfully assaulting, ill-treating or neglecting a child on dates between September 2007 and August 2008. She was jailed for 21 months. She has 34 previous convictions.

The 42 year-old father, was jailed for 18 months, after he pleaded guilty to two similar charges over the same period. He has 20 previous convictions.

The court was told the charges were accepted on the basis that they are sample counts.

The teenager told the sentence hearing: “I have no memory of my parents or any adult coming to my aid.” She added that she was not allowed to experience things as other children could. “I was not allowed to believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy”, she said.

She stated that during the many beatings she wished her Mam or Dad “would come and save me but they never did”.

Witnesses later told gardaí that they saw the child tied to a bed standing upright, while the girl herself said she was not allowed to fall asleep. She said she would get severe beatings for taking biscuits without permission and once had cut her hair painfully back to her scalp.

The court also heard that the woman made the child write out lines in a copy book.

A number of samples of the lines were read out by Ronan Kennedy BL, prosecuting; “I am a rude, bold girl”; “Mammy and Daddy are sad”; “I am very sad”; “I am a cry baby”; “I have to be good”; “ I hurt Mammy and Daddy”; I'm in serious trouble”.

The child was taken into care in August 2008 when social workers called gardaí for assistance in gaining access into the family home. The girl at that time had visible bruising to her face, was undernourished and had very badly cut hair. There was very little food in the house and it was in disarray. The girl has been in foster care since.

Detective Garda Fionnuala Whelan from the Garda National Protective Services Bureau told Mr Kennedy that the child was too distressed to be interviewed by specialist gardaí when she was first taken from her father, which delayed the prosecution.

She was interviewed in 2012 but a file was not submitted to the Director of Public Prosecution until 2016. When asked by Judge Martin Nolan why the file was not submitted prior to 2016, Det Gda Whelan replied that she was “not privy to that information”.

She said she took over the investigation in 2016 and the couple were arrested and interviewed.

Det Gda Whelan said the couple were known heroin users and the woman had been attending at a local treatment centre.

She said a number of people, including a teacher, probation officers, social workers and another attendee at the drug treatment centre had raised concerns about the child's welfare at the time.

The 16-year-old girl read her victim impact statement in which she stated that the woman would drag her by the neck and painfully let her back down again. “This still causes me nightmares to this day,” she continued before she added that she can recall the pain of having two black eyes from one attack.

She said on one occasion the woman painfully cut her hair back to her scalp and because of this she is still extremely anxious about getting her hair cut.

“I have physical scars on my back and others on my face and lip that I cannot explain,” the girl continued.

She said she had been with her current foster family for nine years and was happy and secure there.

“They are my role models. It is because of their love and care that I've become a strong person and I am optimistic for my future.”

“I now realise that parents should support and protect their children and not allow anyone else to hurt them,” the teenager said.

She added that she asks herself how her father “could remain in a relationship with a woman who was so cruel to his daughter” and wonders why he never tried to contact her.

Judge Nolan said what happened to the girl was “grotesquely wrong” and that the woman had physically and mentally abused and neglected the child.

“It was drilled into her that the cause of her beatings were her own fault,” the judge said.

He said that the man's offence was not doing anything about what was happening to his daughter “for whatever reason he chose not to see the signs or chose not to do anything about them. It was a serious moral failure and he had a particular obligation to look after her,” Judge Nolan said.

The case had been adjourned overnight for Judge Nolan to consider sentence. He said today that he had initially believed that the couple were equally culpable but he had since changed his mind.

“The actual abuse was committed by her so he is mildly less culpable,” the judge said before he added “He was the father of the child, the custodian of her care and well-being and he ignored those responsibilities.”

Det Gda Whelan said the child reported to doctors that the puncture marks were caused by thorns because she said she liked to climb. She attributed the other bruises and cuts to fights she got into with the neighbourhood children.

Her father's partner said that she bruised easily but a later blood test found this was not the case. The doctors concluded that the injuries were not accidental but were caused by physical assault.

A witness who attended the drug treatment centre with the woman was invited back to their home one evening. The following day she asked for help in reporting the case to a social worker when she witnessed the mistreatment of the child.

She later told gardaí that she asked to see the little girl when the accused told her she minded her when the child's father was at work.

The accused told the witness that she often left the child standing in a corner and said that one occasion she left her standing for the day in the sitting room before moving her into the bedroom to continue standing. The accused claimed when the child started crying at 5am her father got out of bed and put her in a wardrobe.

When the witness saw the child, she was standing up in a nightdress in her bare feet, tied to a bedpost with the cord from a dressing gown. The accused started saying to the child that she had been trying to escape, the little girl backed away and started apologising saying “I'm sorry Mammy” before the woman hit her with her right hand.

“Her brown eyes were looking up at me to do something,” this witness later reported to gardaí. She said she offered to bring the child back to her home where she said she would give her a meal but the accused refused and said she “would leave her till her Dad comes home”.

The woman said the accused told the child nobody wanted her and told her “you'll be buried up the mountains, that's were you'll end up”.

Det Gda Whelan said the woman told gardaí in interview that she had physically and emotionally abused the girl and admitted to putting make up on her to disguise bruising when social workers visited.

“I'm very sorry. I probably scared that child for life,” she told officers.

The child's father admitted seeing marks but said it wasn't too serious nor did he see them very often. He said his partner was constantly complaining that the child was misbehaving and he felt it was wrong that she was disciplining her since she wasn't her mother.

Det Gda Whelan said she believed the man was fully aware of what was going on.

George Burns BL, defending the woman, said his client first became addicted to heroin as a 26-year-old, the year before she met her co-accused. She is now on methadone and has issues with depression.

Counsel said his client was offering “a contrite apology” and she hoped that the teenager would reach her potential and not be affected by her harsh treatment of her in her younger years.

“She was put in a situation of looking after a child when she was clearly not capable of looking after her,” Mr Burns said.

Stephen Montgomery BL, defending the child's father, said his client “loves his daughter and continues to love her”. He had kept her clothes and toys from when she was baby. He had written a letter to the teenager.

He said he had not tried to contact her because “he heard she was in a good home, in a good area and doing better than she had been doing with him”.

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