Roma family gets €60k after gardaí took away son (2)
A Roma family whose two-year-old blonde son was removed overnight from them by gardaí has secured €60,000 damages under a settlement of their legal action.
The family's barrister claimed in the High Court it was a case of "hysterical" and "overzealous" policing.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott said notwithstanding the very difficult circumstances and undoubted trauma for the child, a medical report suggested he had not suffered personal injuries as a result of his experience.
In all the circumstances, the judge said he would approve the €60,000 settlement offer, plus costs, for the now four-year-old boy, who was in court with his parents.
On the application of counsel Peter Bland, for the boy, he also directed a small payment to meet the costs of a computer for the child, who, the judge was told, likes playing computer games.
The child was removed from his home in Athlone, in October 2013, after members of the public reported concerns he might not be the child of his parents. He was returned to their care the following day.
The parents later sued the Minister for Justice, the Garda Commissioner and State claiming damages on grounds including alleged negligence, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional harm.
Mr Bland said the boy and another child, a seven-year-old blonde Roma girl, were both removed by gardaí from their homes in Athlone and Tallaght respectively.
It followed "brief hysteria" across Europe when a blonde child, "Maria", was found in a Roma camp in Greece.
The removal of the boy under the Child Care Act 1991 was unwarranted and the Children's Ombudsman, in an "excellent" report, later concluded it amounted to "ethnic profiling", Mr Bland said.
The family also had reason to believe gardaí leaked matters to the media. The Government had apologised over the matter, the court heard.
Mr Bland said it was an unusual case involving an "extremely vexed" cause of action which involved imposing a duty of care on gardaí in relation to actions under the Child Care Act.
His case would have been that it was fair and reasonable to impose such a duty on gardaí not to act in an over-zealous way.
The defence to that would argue, when gardaí considered there was a threat to a child, they should not have to worry they might be sued.
Such issues had yet to be decided in Irish law and he could not say who would win should the case have proceeded, counsel said.
In his ruling, Mr Justice McDermott noted counsel's opinion relating to the difficulties of establishing a common law duty of care on gardaí in child care matters. He also noted there was no tangible, only circumstantial, evidence to support the view gardaí leaked matters to the media.
In all the circumstances, the judge said €60,000 was an appropriate settlement.