'Neglect' duo get community service

Gardai at the home of Evelyn Joel at Cluainn Dara, Enniscorthy  following her death in January, 2006. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien.

Gardai at the home of Evelyn Joel at Cluainn Dara, Enniscorthy following her death in January, 2006. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien.

Mon, Mar 4, 2013, 00:00

A couple have been ordered by a judge to do 240 hours community service in lieu of a two-year jail term following their conviction in the first ever case of its kind in Ireland of manslaughter through neglect of a family member.

Eleanor Joel (38) and her partner, Jonathan Costen (40), had been convicted last December by a jury at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court of the unlawful killing through neglect of Joel’s mother, Evelyn (59), on January 7th 2006.

Today, Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin ordered both accused to do 240 hours community service in lieu of a two-year jail term suspended on condition that they be of good behaviour for a period of two years including that they be sober in public at all times

Ms Joel, an MS sufferer, died at Wexford General Hospital on January 7th 2006, having been removed there on New Year’s Day from her daughter’s home at Cluain Dara, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford where she had been found in bed with bed sores and lying in her own excrement.

Imposing sentence, Judge Ó Donnabháin said the evidence of neglect was particularly shocking as he recalled how Ms Joel had deteriorated after moving in with her daughter in 2004 and effectively taking to her bed in November 2005.

“The evidence was gruesome in the extreme – it was evidence of a terminally ill woman abandoned to lie in her own filth in her own room in the accused’s house and it depicted an almost medieval picture of neglect,” he said.

He noted that the accused in their defence had sought to portray the state agencies as having abandoned them and to hold the State agencies responsible for what happened but there was no one else who should have been before the courts except the accused.

All the attempts by the defence to hold the HSE and other agencies responsible had been put before the jury who had roundly rejected it by finding the two accused guilty of the single count of manslaughter by neglect by a majority 11-1 verdict.

“It wasn’t rocket science- the neglect was in failing to call for help,” said Judge Ó Donnabháin, adding that he completely rejected “the prolonged efforts by the defence to get someone else into the dock”.

Notwithstanding that, it was true to say that were it not for the co-operation of the accused in making statements detailing Ms Joel’s deterioration over her time living with them, the State would not have been able to bring a successful prosecution against them.

“These people would never have been convicted but for their own statements,... if you were dependent on the State agencies, it (the trial) would never have started ....,” he observed.

Judge Ó Donnabháin heard from a victim impact statement prepared by Ms Joel’s siblings, who described their sister as a “kind and gentle and generous person”, and that they hated what the accused had done to her which they described as “unforgettable and unforgiveable”

Joel’s counsel, Rosario Boyle SC pointed out that her client had grown up in a very dysfunctional home where her mother had left three times with the accused and her brother when they were children because of their father’s heavy drinking and abuse.

She said that Evelyn Joel used to walk with her children to school which revealed an overprotective nature, and when her daughter left school at 14, her mother wouldn’t allow her get a job or socialise with friends and she hung around the house for four years.

Ms Boyle said her client and Costin had tried to get her mother into a nursing home but when they showed her the application forms, she threw them in the bin, and the HSE stopped calling in September 2005 with a nurse leaving nappies and incontinence pads outside the house.

Costen’s barrister, Dan Walsh BL, said his client had left school at 14 and had worked intermittently as a labourer before being laid off from a back-to-work scheme in 2005, and he was also drinking heavily at the time of the neglect, consuming six-eight cans of beer a night.

"He was struggling to cope with the normal dealings of daily life and he was wholly incapable of dealing with Evelyn Joel’s condition which was a complex case," adding that since March 2012, he has been off alcohol since beginning a course of substance abuse.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said manslaughter was an unusual offence in that it provided for a range of penalties and being the first such case of manslaughter neglect before the courts, he did not have the benefit of a ladder of penalties against which to cross-reference his sentence

He said while this was a case of elder abuse and cases of elder abuse were not unusual, it was nonetheless a case with particular circumstances which would merit a custodial sentence.

Stressing it was important that a salutary lesson and deterrent be drawn from the case, he noted both accused had poor education and limited coping skills but both had made some progress in the past year in dealing with their problems.

He said he believed the case had come about in the main because of “the social isolation” of the accused, and that social isolation could persist but he believed a community service order sentence would help decrease their social isolation.

Directing both accused to perform 240 hours community service in lieu of a two-year sentence which he suspended. He warned both accused that any failure to comply with the terms of his order would result in the custodial sentence being activated.