Sunday 18 February 2018

Gardaí fear evidence 'compromised' after a delay in reporting alleged sex assault

King’s Hospital school in Palmerstown, Dublin
King’s Hospital school in Palmerstown, Dublin

Ken Foy, Eilish O'Regan and Niall O'Connor

Gardaí are deeply concerned that evidence may have been compromised after an alleged sex assault in a leading boarding school was not reported to officers for five days.

Detectives have launched a full investigation into a complaint that a 13-year-old boy was sexually assaulted at the prestigious King's Hospital school in west Dublin.

It emerged that eight pupils, all of them young teenagers, have been suspended following the alleged incident at the Church of Ireland-governed school in Palmerstown on Thursday of last week.

But the incident was not reported to gardaí until Tuesday of this week - and the school has failed to clarify the reasons for this despite a series of queries from the Irish Independent.

The boy was allegedly sexually assaulted in an incident involving a hockey stick in a dormitory of the school - which charges nearly €16,000-a-year for a seven-day boarder pupil.

Specialist officers are expected to interview the eight suspended male pupils as part of an investigation being led by gardaí based in Lucan.

However, sources revealed that gardaí were currently "deeply concerned" that evidence may have been compromised in a five-day time frame.

"Gardaí are very unhappy with the delay. This is not only because of the child protection issue, but like in any investigation, where there is a delay in reporting something, evidence could have been tampered with," a source said.

"There is very significant concerns about the delay and these concerns have been expressed to the school.

"The school should be aware of their obligations and they have a duty to report matters like this in a timely fashion and that did not happen."

The Child and Family Agency Túsla has also been informed, but said it would not comment on individual cases.

The Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon pointed to clear guidelines that put an onus on schools to notify authorities without delay.

"In line with Children First 2011 Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, every school was obliged to have a child protection policy.

"Where there is a child protection concern, the designated liaison person should be notified immediately and Túsla should be contacted without delay. Any delay would not be in the best interests of the child or children involved," he said.

Education Minister Richard Bruton will seek a full briefing on the developments. A source said Mr Bruton was particularly concerned about the timeline of events, and any delay involved.

"Responsibility for ensuring that child protection requirements are complied with rests with the school board, the principal and the staff of each school," the spokesman said.

The Irish Independent sent a series of questions to school headmaster John Rafter including queries about the timeline of the allegations and the apparent delay in this being reported. He was also asked about the school's child protection policy in responding to alleged incidents, and whether further safeguards have been put in place.

However, there was no direct response to the questions.

"No further statement will be made by the school at this time," a spokesman for King's Hospital said.

Three senior Church of Ireland clergy expressed their "sincere concern". Archbishop Richard Clarke, Archbishop Michael Jackson and Bishop Pat Storey offered "thoughts and prayers for the child and family at the centre of this incident".

The eight pupils will remain suspended until investigations are completed. But the alleged victim will remain on in school, with the agreement of his parents.

Irish Independent

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