Charges dropped against seven men accused of sexually abusing child

The charges were dropped after the quality of garda interviews with the child were called into question

Seven men who allegedly sexually abused a child in her mother’s home were never prosecuted because of concerns over how garda interviews with the child were handled.

The case has been published by the Child Care Law Reporting Project led by law professor Dr Carol Coulter.

The child had been removed from her mother’s care gardaí based on fears she was suffering neglect and - after a time in state care - she began to open up about the abuse she had suffered.

The child said she had been sexually abused from a young age by men who were drinking with her mother.

She said she had been drugged before the abuse took place and alleged her mother had made her pose naked for photos – which were shown to her abusers.

She said her mother was sometimes present during the abuse and had involved herself at times.

She also gave evidence of neglect as well as emotional and physical abuse.

The child’s mother denied the allegations; accusing her daughter of lying and claiming she had been coached.

Criminal investigation dropped

While the court made a full Care Order for the child - entering her into care until her 18th birthday - a parallel criminal investigation into the abuse allegations was dropped based on the manner in which gardaí had conducted their interviews.

The court heard that six interviews were carried out by the garda child specialist interviewer, with two taking place each day.

The child was allowed an hour break between each interview, some of which were up to one hour and twenty minutes long.

"Relentless" process

In total, the child sat through 11 interviews overseen by the gardaí and a child sexual abuse therapy unit.

A forensic psychologist described the process as “abusive” and “relentless” in court – and questioned the quality of the interviewer’s training.

He said the gardaí had pressed the child for details that undermined the veracity of her evidence, adding that despite this, he viewed her account of events as “clearly credible.”

He told the court that he was not surprised that a child sexual abuse prosecution was not going ahead – because the child’s account had been undermined by interviewers asking her to recall inappropriately specific details from when she was very young, that were not within her ability.

Garda training

On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Child Care Law Reporting Project director Carol Coulter said the four weeks training the garda interviewer had received was “perhaps not sufficient.”

“Generally I think, to be fair, everybody was doing things to the best motivation,” she said.

“One can understand that the gardaí may wish to prosecute and in order to mount a prosecution would want as much detail as possible.

“Best practice internationally is that police and social service interviews are conducted at the same time – the minimum amount possible – and everybody then gets the information they need for whatever their purpose might be, from a single interview.”

Detailed evidence

She said the child had given “very, very detailed evidence” – however in cases where a child has suffered long-term abuse, it can be difficult to establish a timeline, and secure a prosecution.

“The DPP clearly felt that the way in which the evidence had been sought was such as to make a prosecution impossible,” she said. “The forensic psychologist, when told that there would not be a criminal investigation, said ‘that does not surprise me.’”

During the district court child protection proceedings both the judge and forensic psychologist found the child’s accounts to be perfectly credible.

The judge criticised the lack of -ordination between gardaí and the therapy unit and found that, on the balance of probabilities, while in the care of her mother, the child suffered physical abuse, neglect, emotional and sexual abuse.

The finding is not legally binding.

You can listen back to Dr Coulter’s appearance on the Pat Kenny Show here: