THE devastated family of a young autistic man assaulted by his carer appealed for anyone who witnesses the mistreatment of the vulnerable to have the courage to speak out.
The Duane family issued the appeal as they praised the courage of two unnamed women who came forward and triggered an investigation into the treatment of their 32-year-old son and brother in COPE Foundation's Cork centre.
Carer David Atkinson (41) was fined €500 in Cork District Court after being convicted of assaulting Joseph Duane (32), a COPE resident, on October 22, 2013.
Atkinson of Thornton Park, Whitegate, Cork, was convicted of assault despite his insistence that he only intervened in an incident at House 5 of COPE's Arderragh facility to prevent injury when two vulnerable residents got involved in a confrontation.
Atkinson, a Welsh national who moved to Ireland with his wife and children, had worked as a carer for 13 years and had an unblemished record.
Judge Aeneas McCarthy noted that Atkinson should not have been on duty on his own that day in such a high-dependency unit.
The defence had argued that staffing levels were a major factor in what happened.
The court was told Atkinson now accepts he made a mistake in the manner of his intervention.
"He has lost everything from (that) error of judgement," the defence said.
"He acknowledges that he should not have used his foot to prod Mr Duane to stand up."
Judge McCarthy said that Mr Duane was "a very vulnerable person" and that "greater force than was necessary" was used.
However, he said it was "a minor type of assault with no injuries". Judge McCarthy was told that Atkinson was dismissed by COPE within 24 hours of his conviction.
The court was told he now has "a negligible chance" of ever working as a carer again and has been left with no means of providing for his wife and children.
"It has had a cataclysmic impact on him and his family," his solicitor argued.
The Duane family said the entire incident had "a devastating impact" on their family.
Mr Duane's mother, Nora, attended the case together with his sister, Marcia, and brother, Russell.
"Joseph is a gentle person, a son, a brother and an uncle who is deeply loved," Marcia said.
"Joseph is autistic, non-verbal and a valued member of our family.
"Unfortunately Joseph has endured a lonely, sad and difficult time because those who were trusted to look after him failed him.
"In particular we want to sincerely thank the two ladies who spoke up and were Joseph's voice.
"Unfortunately, Joseph does not have a voice and if it were not for the courage of these two ladies, this incident would have gone (without) investigation and the truth would not have been known."