Friday 15 December 2017

School principal denies suicide teen's self-harm was discovered in class

Helene Burns, mother of Lara Burns, at the Coroner's Court inquest into the tragedy. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Helene Burns, mother of Lara Burns, at the Coroner's Court inquest into the tragedy. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Tragic Lara Burns (12) from Maynooth, Co Kildare
School principal Johnny Nevin at the Coroner's Court inquest into the death of Lara Burns on Store Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Gareth Naughton

THE school principal and counsellor of a 12-year-old girl who took her own life denied claims by her mother at an inquest that her self-harming was discovered in class by a teacher.

Lara Gibbs-Burns (12) was found dead in a barn at her family home at Grange, Enfield, Co Meath, on the evening of November 24, 2012.

Her mother, Helene Burns, had told Dublin Coroner's Court that Maynooth Post-Primary School discovered Lara was self-harming when an incident in which another student saw marks on her arm was not dealt with discreetly by the teacher.

Ms Burns claimed Lara was sent to see the counsellor in the middle of class – but this was denied by the school, who said Lara sought help of her own accord.

Ms Burns reiterated her claim about the classroom incident as school counsellor Megan Gaffney gave evidence on the second day of the inquest. However, Ms Gaffney said that as far as she was aware "the incident in the classroom never happened".


School principal Johnny Nevin also told the court that he had "no information" to say that Ms Burns' claims about the incident were "correct".

Ms Gaffney said that Lara self-referred for counselling on September 12, 2012, and told her that she had been self-harming. She saw evidence of this, she said, and agreed a "safety plan" with Lara including informing her mother and a referral to suicide and self-harm crisis centre Pieta House. Lara continued to avail of counselling sessions at the school while also attending Pieta House.

Ms Gaffney said that the issues she discussed with Lara in her counselling sessions surrounded difficulties in her relationships and low self-esteem.

From the body of the court, Ms Burns said that one of Lara's classmates was present outside and would be able to give evidence that she did not self-refer for counselling.

However, Mr Nevin said that the school would have "real concerns" about other students being brought into the inquest.

Mr Nevin told the inquest that there was an incident on November 16, 2012, when Lara self-referred to the counsellor because she was upset that a rumour had gone around school that she had brought a blade. Mr Nevin said that this incident was taken "very seriously" by the school and Lara had been "totally vindicated".

Lara was clinically assessed by Jules Thompson at Pieta House on October 10. She told the court that she categorised her as "high risk" after she spoke of one previous suicide attempt and feeling suicidal for the previous year. This ensured that Lara bypassed waiting lists to get an appointment with a therapist in five days, she said.

Ms Burns told Coroner Dr Brian Farrell that the family had never been told that Lara was high risk or had suicidal ideation. However, Ms Thompson said protocols required her to tell parents when a client was high risk and she did this.

The inquest was adjourned to May 21.

Irish Independent

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