Saturday 15 December 2018

Jane Last: 'In failing rapist Eoin Berkley, our system also failed his victim'

Eoin Berkley
Eoin Berkley
Behind the mask: Eoin Berkley was well known to gardaí. Picture: Justin Farrelly
Jane Last

Jane Last

The Spanish teenager who managed to escape from Eoin Berkley's clutches after he abducted and raped her repeatedly over 24 hours should be hailed for her courage.

One should never feel sorry for an individual who terrorised and attacked an innocent teenage girl, leading her to believe he would kill her.

However, there were systemic failings when it comes to the life of Berkley - and in failing him, our system failed his victim.

There are two elements here.

The first is the question as to why Berkley was still on bail despite his five breaches.

He should have been in custody when he abducted and raped his victim on Saturday, July 15, and Sunday, July 16, of last year.

The second element is how the State's agencies managed Berkley (25) after his mother put him in care at the age of 15 months.

At his sentencing hearing on Thursday, his counsel Michael Bowman outlined a life beset by a "very, very difficult and interrupted upbringing".

According to Mr Bowman, Berkley's mother had considerable difficulties of a psychological nature which were compounded by alcohol.

She placed her son, then just 15 months, into care.

By the age of four, he was under the permanent care of the HSE.

Reports from that time show that by the age of six, he was doing well in his environment.

But that was to change in 1999, when his natural father died.

Then there was more upheaval when the marriage in his foster home broke down.

Mr Bowman told the Central Criminal Court there were concerns for Berkley's development at this stage, and he was in contact with a number of agencies.

At the age of eight, he was diagnosed with a speech and language impairment, which led to him becoming defensive, affecting his progress in school.

This was to escalate - by the age of 12 he was taken out of school due to his extreme violence.

He never returned to school and has no formal qualifications.

How can a 12-year-old boy, in our care system since he was a baby, not continue with his education? Were there any questions asked or actions taken?

What - if any - supports were given to his foster family to help manage his difficult behaviour?

This was in 2005, so it is not a case of our system having to learn from a distant past.

So what happened to Berkley as he headed into his teenage years?

Mr Bowman said the records show this foster family situation had broken down by the age of 14, as Berkley was being difficult to manage.

He was institutionalised at Ballydowd, a facility to deal with unruly individuals.

He "aged out" of our care system at 18, and experienced a "period of flux" upon leaving Ballydowd.

This saw him moving between an "unconventional" family home and homelessness.

There was a claim that during his difficult upbringing, Berkley may have been exposed to sexual abusive behaviour, Mr Bowman said.

Indeed the judge referenced this "possible sexual abuse" when sentencing Berkley to 14 years in jail.

In the months before the brutal attack, Berkley was taking 20mg of Denzapine - an anti-psychotic drug - yet spent most of his days hanging around a public place known as "the benches" near Dame Street in Dublin city centre.

He was well known to gardaí, often fighting with other homeless people and presenting himself in conditions that prompted concerns for his mental health.

This is tragic, but will elicit little sympathy for Berkley, who traumatised an innocent teenager to such an extent that she can no longer sleep in the dark.

However, we do need to look at our system and see how it failed Berkley both in childhood and in his brushes with the law.

Garda management have chosen to review the management of the case.

Even if the HSE and/or Tusla do something similar, there's a good chance we'll never know.

However, lessons need to be learned - not just for people like Eoin Berkley, but for unsuspecting women who might fall into the path of people like him.

Irish Independent

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