Creche manager cleared of neglect of wandering tots

Joanna Witkowska at Dun Laoghaire District Court.

By Shane Phelan

A CRECHE manager has been cleared of a charge of wilfully neglecting two toddlers found wandering near a stream.

The case against Polish-born Joanna Witkowska (34) was dismissed by Judge Hugh O'Donnell, who said there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction.

Ms Witkowska was charged following a Garda investigation into an incident where a boy and a girl, aged 18 and 19 months, wandered out of the Giraffe creche in Belarmine, Stepaside, Dublin on June 23 last year.

The children were gone for 15 minutes before staff at the creche realised one of them, the boy, was missing.

They were found a few minutes later 170 metres from the creche on a green area with a stream running through it.

The prosecution contended that Ms Witkowska had responsibility for ensuring a gate, through which the children left the creche, was kept closed and had failed to discharge this duty.

However, the defence contended the children had wandered past at least two other care staff before leaving the creche and questioned whether Ms Witkowska should have been charged at all.

However, yesterday morning Judge O'Donnell said he was dismissing the case as there was no evidence the toddlers were harmed.

Afterwards, Ms Witkowska made no comment outside the court.

An earlier hearing was told she had worked for Giraffe for seven years and had an unblemished record. The court heard Ms Witkowska and another manager had told gardai that the two children had been missing for "three or four minutes" and had been found directly outside the creche.

However, CCTV footage revealed the children had been missing from the creche playground for a quarter of an hour when a staff member noticed the boy was no longer there.

Judge O'Donnell was told a gate was opened by Ms Witkowska at 10.52am to allow a farmer, Mary Ward, bring some animals through the playground to show the children.

The footage showed the boy and girl playing near a toy train until 11.15am when they wandered out of the playground. Ms Witkowska was seen running through the playground at 11.33am. The footage showed the children finally being returned to the play area at 11.38am.

Defence solicitor Dara Robinson said the incident was "accidental and inadvertent", but did not constitute neglect.