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Saturday 16 December 2017

Number of Aras Attracta files secretly recorded by RTE 'later deleted' - court

Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

The trial of five care workers accused of assault at the Aras Attracta care home has heard that a number of files secretly recorded by RTE were later deleted.

Five members of staff at the facility are facing charges of assault. The charges relate to alleged assaults at Bungalow Three, Aras Attracta, Swinford Co Mayo which it is claimed took place on dates in November 2014.

Pat McLoughlin (56) of Lalibela, Mayfield, Claremorris, Co Mayo; Christina Delaney (35) of Seefinn, Lissatava, Hollymount, Co Mayo; Anna Ywunong Botsimbo (34) Low Park Avenue, Charlestown Co Mayo; Joan Walsh (42) Carrowilkeen, Curry Co Sligo and Kathleen King (56) Knockshanvally Straide, Foxford in Co Mayo all face a single charge of assault alleged to have taken place on dates between November 6 and 17, 2014.

The court previously heard that the cases would involve extensive amounts of material including filings and statements, CCTV and video footage.

Det Sgt James Carroll of Claremorris Garda Station who took possession of the RTE recordings, said he only became aware of deletions from the fixed camera in court today.

It also emerged that the State prosecution only heard about the deleted files today.

Det Sgt Carroll said he had been aware of deletions from the shirt camera after he was specifically told so by RTE's Paul Maguire. However, he had not been aware of any deletions from the fixed camera.

"I do know when I left RTE that day in my mind I was happy in the knowledge that there was no deletions from the fixed camera," he said.

Caoimhe Delaney, who has been a researcher with RTE since 2010 gave evidence of switching the cameras in the care facility.

Ms Delaney who also has a Fetac Level 5 qualification in health care was working undercover at the care facility on work experience. She told the court that no one in Aras Attracta was assisting her.

Ms Delaney today told the court how she would remove and replace the hidden cameras, disguised as aerosol cans, from the living room in Bungalow 3. She would hand them to Pauline Dunne, Janet Traynor or on occasion Barry O'Kelly. The swap would take place outside Bungalow Three each morning.

Ms Delaney gave evidence that she never watched the video clips adding that it was "not possible" for her to have edited the clips in any way.

Journalist Pauline Dunne who worked with RTE since September 2014, gave evidence that she was the only person who deleted files.

In her initial statement to gardai she has said she had not deleted any footage. However, it later emerged that six files had been deleted.

"I don't recall deleting them but if they were deleted it would have been me that deleted it. I didn't delete files unless Janet told me too," she told the court today.

When asked why she had initially said she had not deleted files, Ms Dunne said: "There was so much work to do, working long hours it would have taken two minutes to delete those clips. It just didn't stick in my mind."

However, she stressed the footage clearly showed the only gaps in footage where the six deletions highlighted.

Evidence was heard from Paul McGuire, head of the RTE Investigations Unit who oversaw the station's investigation into Aras Attracta.

He told the court that he had made the decision to put a fixed camera into the common room at Bungalow 3 in conjunction with the production team.

He said the HSE had not been consulted in regards to the camera.

This camera was replaced each day and all footage uploaded onto a master copy, the final day anything was added to the copy was around November 19, the court heard.

Mr McGuire said that given the "breaches we were witnessing in regulation and standards" the team made the decision to stop the investigation and alert the HSE and HIQA.

The original harddrive remains "under lock and key" in the offices of Mr McGuire. A mirror copy of the harddrive was made for gardai upon request.

Under cross examination by Conall McCarthy for defendant Christine Delaney, Mr McGuire agreed he had not viewed all 190 hours of footage on the drive handed to gardai to ensure it was identical to the original.

However, he added; "The number of files were exactly the same and the size of the space used was exactly the same."

Asked about deletions made from either the fixed camera and a shirt camera, Mr McGuire said a number of deletions were made to the fixed camera, one which showed "absolutely nothing" and four or five files recorded when the camera accidentally activated while in a car being transported to Aras Attracta.

"Those files were obviously of no significance to the investigation and they were deleted," he added.

Mr McGuire said a log was kept on all files including those that were deleted.

Patrick Reynolds BL for the State said no footage from the shirt camera was being presented in the case.

The court heard that the footage was taken between November 3 and November 19.

Mr Maguire said any deleted files only showed accidental filming. He stressed that the deleted files did not show examples of good care, insisting footage of good care was included in the programme.

"We wouldn't delete good care for example," he said.

"If sensitive footage of no consequence was filmed you wouldn't take the risk of having it around the place, you would delete it," added Mr Maguire.

Asked about the audio on the footage, Mr Maguire said what was aired was the actual footage.

Asked if the tape had been distorted to make voices clearer than the background noise, Mr Maguire added: "That is CSI stuff, that doesn't happen in real life".

The RTE Investigations Unit began its probe of Aras Attracta after they were approached by three whistleblowers, the court has heard.

Janet Traynor, producer of the RTE programme into Aras Attracta told the court that to her mind there were three people "concerned about the standards of care within the facility" who approached the station.

She said that while there was "strong evidence" of issues of concern, the team needed to be able to witness this themselves before even considering putting in a camera. 

Under cross examination, Gearoid Geraghty put it to Ms Traynor, that the word Master copy in relation to the footage was inappropriate in this case, due to a number of deletions.

Ms Traynor said she was confident only six deletions had been made to the Master drive, adding: "I am the only one who had the power to instruct deletions."

Ms Traynor said the six deletions were made from recordings on November 12 on her instructions.

She told the court the first five clips were "literally blackness" before the camera was put in place while the sixth deleted clip on the 12 of November occurred when the camera was voice activated but no one was in the room.

It was put to Ms Traynor that in her initial statement she had stated she was 99pc certain there were no deletions. She told the court she had said 99pc certain not 100pc adding that the six deleted files were less than 1pc of the overall files.

Under cross examination she said she was  "very, very clear there were only six deletions". She added that every second was accounted for with the exception of a 20 minute period on November 12.

"The metadata shows exactly when the camera fired off, the exact date, time of day and the duration. And everything is accounted for apart from the 12th of November for that 20 minutes," she said.

She said the RTE protocol of deleting certain irrelevant clips including for privacy reasons was dropped after researchers saw "so many incidents happening".

"There were so many incidents occurring daily that we felt it was really important that we parked our protocols and kept all footage in its totality," she added.

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