Mum sues over extortion claim while in school

By Tim Healy

A GARDA handed a €20 note to a 15-year-old old schoolgirl and told her to get some phone credit for herself after telling her she was owed "a very big apology" for being wrongly accused of extorting the same €20 from another pupil, the High Court heard.

Lydia O'Hara was a Junior Cert student of Scoil Chriost Ri, in Portlaoise, in March 2004, when the court heard a nightmare began in which she was a victim of an allegation made up by another student who claimed money had been regularly extorted from her by three girls at break-time in the school bike shed.

Ms O'Hara (25), a mother-of-one from Portlaoise, is suing the school board of management and the Garda Commissioner for defamation, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional and physical harm.

The school issued a number of apologies to Ms O'Hara including a lenghty one read out at assembly, the court heard. Ms O'Hara told the court as a result of the false allegation, she had tried to take her own life, self-harmed, suffered from panic attacks in public, had to undergo counselling and is still on medication for depression.

She said she had been a happy bubbly girl, involved in basketball and going out with her friends, before the incident but after says she became a hermit. "I just had no will to live."

The court heard a first-year pupil's mother had written to the school alleging she had been the victim of extortion for around six months and that it involved around €1,000. She also made a complaint to the gardai.

Martin Giblin SC said the school allowed the gardai to come in to set up a "sting" operation in which a marked €20 note was put into the school bike shed but there was a failure to observe who had gone to the shed at 11am that day.

Ms O'Hara, who found herself the innocent victim of this sting, was at that time outside the principal's office waiting to get permission to go home early as she was not feeling well.

She also asked was that her schoolbag on the floor and told her to pick it up. When she did, there was a folded €20 note underneath and she was told to pick that up too and hand it to the principal.

At that point, two plain clothes gardai followed them into the office and read her rights.

The hearing continues.