Monday 16 December 2019

Jury retires to consider verdict in trial of mother accused of 42 counts of child cruelty and neglect

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Caroline Crawford

A mother facing charges of cruelty and neglect has insisted her children were wrong when they told a court she pushed them down the stairs, gave one of them drugs, beat them with a back scratcher and showed her daughter how to cut herself.

The 39-year-old woman who is facing charges relating to eight of her children, told the court that a number of allegations made by her children were not true.

“They weren’t beaten to the extent that it trying to be painted in this court,” she said.

The court had heard evidence from one of the boys that his mother had laughed after pushing him down the stairs. When he required medical attention he claimed his mother had told him to blame his sister for the fall.

The defendant denied both claims adding; “Why would I ask my son to lie about anything?”

The court heard that over the time period in question from 2006 to 2011 the defendant had received over €160,000 in a range of payments from the Department of Social Protection.

She told the court that despite this “things were tight”. She denied claims from neighbours that the children looked ragged and malnourished.

The defendant was also asked about claims she had cut her daughter when she discovered the girl was self harming. Two of the children gave evidence that the defendant had grabbed her eldest daughter while in a rage, cutting her arm and telling her this is how you do it properly.

The woman, who can’t be named to protect the identity of her children denied the claims. She also denied given the girl speed and cannabis during an overnight visitation while the child was in care.

Accepting she washed three of her children’s mouth out with fairy liquid, she insisted she did not use excessive force.

Speaking about the incident involving her eldest daughter, she told the court: “I didn’t put it down her throat, it was actually very hard to get it in her mouth, she was strong. I held her hair.”

She added that it “wasn’t easy” to get the washing liquid into the mouths of her two sons as it was difficult trying to hold them while she was doing it.

The mother also denied beating her son with a back scratcher. She told the court she could give no explanation for the marks on his back, which a plastic surgeon said were consistent with the boy’s version of events.

The woman was also asked about her children’s school attendance between 2006 and 2011. Her eldest daughter missed 41 days in ‘06-’07, while her sister missed 35 days for the same period, this rose to 76 days absent for the second girl in 2010-2011.

She told the court she could make no comment on the absences as she did not know what was a standard level.

The defendant is facing over 40 charges of child cruelty or neglect against eight of her children, who ranged in age from teenagers to young toddlers at the time. The counts relate to alleged abuses at five different addresses in the West over a five year period from 2006 to 2011.

She denies all charges.

The jury has now retired to consider their verdict.

In his summation, Shane Costelloe SC for the prosecution told the jury that in his view the actions of the defendant were not incidents of reasonable chastisement which was a lawful excuse at the time.

He said one alleged incident when the defendant allegedly drove a car at her sons was in his view “sadism, cruelty and trying to terrify young children.”

He said that in a number of incidents the defendant’s version of events differs from that of the children. He told the jury that even if they accept her version of events it did not amount to reasonable chastisement.

Paul Flannery SC for the defence said many of the alleged incidents would be familiar to members of the jury and did not meet the level of cruelty.

He added that all the incidents which were accepted by the defendant did not reach the level of cruelty and pointed to variations in the evidence given by some of the children in relation to the other alleged events.

Judge Karen O’Connor told the jury they must put aside any sympathies or strong feelings and approach the evidence in a cold and dispassionate manner.

The jury must decide on 42 counts of child cruelty and neglect which occurred between 2006 and 2011 in five homes across the West.

While 50 counts were before the jury, they were told by Judge O’Connor that they must return not guilty by direction of the trial judge in relation to eight counts involving one of the children.

She said the jury had to give some thought to the matter of reasonable chastisement which was an accepted defence at the time.

She said the mother has denied all along any wrongdoing.

While she has made admissions that she smacked the children, used a wooden spoon and a belt, Judge O’Connor said it was for the jury to decide if this was reasonable chastisement.

She said there were specific counts and general cruelty counts which the jury would see on the issue paper.

Judge O’Connor asked the jury to reach a unanimous verdict on each count.

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