Tuesday 16 January 2018

Gardai 'assessing' endangerment claims in 'Grace' case

Warning: Senator Ivana Bacik said evidence may yet emerge of the offence of 'reckless endangerment' Photo: Bernard Walsh
Warning: Senator Ivana Bacik said evidence may yet emerge of the offence of 'reckless endangerment' Photo: Bernard Walsh
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A high-level garda investigation into allegations that the health service was criminally negligent in the Grace foster home abuse case will be slow and will take considerable time to complete, according to informed sources.

The garda investigation was launched after a whistleblower made a formal complaint last January against health service staff involved in decisions around Grace's care.

Grace, who has a severe intellectual disability, was allowed to remain with a foster family for nearly 20 years after other children in the home had been removed over allegations of sexual abuse.

The employees allegedly named in the whistleblower's statement have not been interviewed and sources said that gardai are still examining her allegations to identify whether an offence has been committed. "At this stage, gardai are assessing the statement of witnesses to assess what breaches, if any, occurred," said the source.

Speaking about the Grace case in the Seanad earlier this year, Senator Ivana Bacik, a constitutional lawyer, said evidence may emerge of the offence "reckless endangerment".

The Government will launch a Commission of Investigation into the mishandling of the Grace case by the South Eastern Health Board, which was later subsumed into the Health Service Executive.

However sources said there could be "issues" with a Commission of Inquiry running parallel with a criminal garda investigation into alleged negligence.

A criminal investigation into the actual sexual abuse concluded last year with a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions that no one should be prosecuted.

Gardai sent files on five people to the Director of Public Prosecutions but the DPP decided not to press any charges.

Grace, who cannot speak, was allowed to remain in the foster home despite suspicions of sexual and physical abuse. She was first placed in the home in 1989 and remained there until 2009.

It has since emerged that in 1995, a former resident of the foster home raised allegations of abuse. At the time, the local health board stopped placing children with the foster family and social workers decided to remove Grace.

However the foster family appealed that decision. The appeal panel upheld the decision but later, a three-person panel of health board employees decided that Grace should remain with the family.

Over the next 13 years, Grace had little or no contact with social workers despite the credible allegations of abuse raised.

In 2007, a new social worker came upon Grace's file and intervened. She raised her concerns with the authorities but another two years passed before Grace was removed from the foster home.

The social worker was one of three professionals to make protected disclosures in relation to the case under whistleblower legislation. She later asked the Dail's Public Accounts Committee to take up Grace's case.

At a public meeting of the PAC earlier this year, it emerged that some staff involved in decisions around Grace's care were now working for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Tusla has since requested the names of any of its staff members who were involved in the Grace case but the names have not been disclosed to the agency.

In a statement this weekend, Tusla said it "can confirm that we have regular communication with the HSE in relation to a range of matters, including the 'Grace' case.

"Tusla has requested information on staff members who may have been involved from both the HSE and an Garda Siochana.

"We have been advised that it is not possible to release this information to us."

The Health Service Executive commissioned two reports in to the case, neither of which were published because of the garda investigation into sexual abuse at the foster home.

The second, which was commissioned in 2012, focused on 46 other residents of the foster home.

A third report, by barrister Conor Dignam, was given to the Minister of State, Finian McGrath, last week. The report examined the possible terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry.

According to leaked details, Mr Dignam found that an investigation commissioned by the HSE was "inadequate", and that the Devine report should have examined allegations of an attempt to cover up the failings in Grace's care.

Mr McGrath, the Minister of State for Disabilitiy Issues, said last week that the "absolute priority" will be to ascertain how a vulnerable young woman known as "Grace" was failed by the HSE.

The HSE has apologised to Grace and the other 47 people who passed through the foster service.

In a statement this weekend, the HSE said it "continues to liaise and co-operate with all enquiries being undertaken by An Garda Siochana in relation to this matter".

Sunday Independent

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