Friday 20 July 2018

Woman tried to get children off tram due to 'paedophile' danger

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Fiona Ferguson

A mentally ill woman who tried to force children off trams because she believed they were in danger has been found not guilty of attempted abduction by reason of insanity.

Theresa Chennaux (49), who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, later told gardaí she was trying to protect the children from a paedophile. She "ranted" illogically during garda interviews and accused gardaí of being vampires and sucking the blood of children.

Ms Chennaux, formerly of Tonlegee Ave, Coolock, Dublin and currently in the Central Mental Hospital, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to attempting to take a five year child at a city centre Luas stop in one incident on November 20, 2015.

She had also pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to intentionally or recklessly restricting the liberty of another child, aged 12 years old, and assaulting the girl's 14 year old sister with intent to commit false imprisonment at a second Luas stop on the same date.

The court heard Ms Chennaux, who has no previous convictions, had not been taking her medication and had been brought in and out of various psychiatric bodies in the preceding months but had not fulfilled the criteria for involuntary admission. She had been advised to admit herself voluntarily but did not do so.

The Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 allows a jury to return a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. This provides that an accused person suffering from a mental disorder is not held responsible for an alleged act if they meet certain criteria laid out in the legislation.

Consultant forensic psychologists for both the defence and prosecution agreed that Ms Chennaux was suffering from a severe and enduring mental disorder at the time and met the criteria laid out under the act.

The jury of six men and six women returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity on all charges in less than 20 minutes of deliberations.

Judge Melanie Greally thanked them for their attention to the case and committed Ms Chennaux to the Central Mental Hospital to be assessed for inpatient treatment. A report will be provided to the court by her treating doctor on November 13.

Garda Niall Murray told Maurice Coffey BL, prosecuting, that the first incident occurred in early morning as three sisters, aged 12, 14 and 15 years old, were making their way to school on the Luas. Initially Ms Chennaux made the 14 year old girl uncomfortable by touching her hand until another passenger intervened.

Witnesses on the tram described Ms Chennaux as dishevelled and appearing “crazy.” They said she was talking about witches and the devil. The incident was captured on CCTV.

The court heard Ms Chennaux “ushered” the distressed 12-year-old girl off the tram at a stop. Her 14 year old sister also got off. Their older sister called them back but Ms Chennaux had her arms out to stop them getting back in. Other passengers intervened on the platform and the girls were taken to safety.

Gda Murray agreed with Caroline Biggs SC, defending, that during garda interview Ms Chennaux expressed the “firm unshakable belief” that there was a rapist on the Luas tram and the girls were at risk.

Garda Natan Foley told Mr Coffey that in a second incident later that day a mother was on the Luas with her three children when Ms Chennaux approached and asked if the children were on their own. The mother said they were with her and the accused made a sign of the cross during a brief interaction.

The mother was speaking with a friend as Ms Chennaux sat down beside her children. At the next Luas stop one of the children shouted to her that the woman was pulling her five year old daughter off the tram.

The mother managed to pull her daughter back, re-boarded the tram and alerted gardaí. Ms Chennaux was shouting about paedophiles and rapists. This incident was also captured on CCTV.

Gda Foley agreed with Ms Biggs that Ms Chennaux was accusing gardaí of being “dead”, evil and saying that they were not human. He agreed she spat in the direction of gardaí and began to make sounds which she said was “praying in tongues.” She would not answer routine questions, was highly agitated and dishevelled.

Ms Chennaux was remanded in custody and later transferred to the CMH following assessment.

Defence witness, Dr Sally Linehan, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the CMH, said Ms Chennaux had had extensive history of medical attention and there had been some variation in her diagnosis. She said it was her belief that Ms Chennaux had a schizo-affective disorder which was a severe and enduring mental illness.

She said that she was of the opinion that Ms Chennaux was experiencing a relapse of her condition at the time of the incidents. She said she was satisfied Ms Chennaux met the criteria laid out in the legislation and was driven by a belief that she had to remove the children in order to protect them.

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