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Thursday 22 February 2018

Tragic Lara's school principal and counsellor deny claims her self-harming was discovered in class

Lara Burns' mother had told inquest Maynooth school knew of self-harming

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

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 hanging in a barn at her family home at Grange, Enfield in Co Meath on the evening of November 24, 2012.

Her mother Helene Burns had previously 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 that Lara was sent to see the counsellor in the middle of class.

However, at the resumption of the inquest, the school’s counsellor Megan Gaffney and principal Johnny Nevin both said that they were unaware of this incident happening.

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.

Speaking from the body of the court, Ms Burns reiterated her claim about the classroom incident.

However, Ms Gaffney said that as far as she was aware “the incident in the classroom did not happen”.  

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 in and left it at another student’s desk.

Mr Nevin said that this incident was taken “very seriously” by the school and Lara had been “totally vindicated”.

He also told the court that he had “no information” that Ms Burns’ claims about the classroom incident were “correct”. 

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 that the school would have “real concerns” about other students being brought into the inquest.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said that he had a statement from the boy’s mother and the relevant information for the inquest was that he had said there was “nothing out of the usual” in terms of bullying.

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 the coroner 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 is high risk and she did this.

The inquest was adjourned to May 21 hear from the Pieta House therapist who treated Lara.

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