Children in Galway case tell court of mother’s abusive treatment

Social workers found children hungry, filthy and left in house with drunken strangers

Galway courthouse: Shane Costelloe SC told the court that this was “not an allegation of scolding or reprimanding or chastising children, but one of actual serious, physical violence”

Galway courthouse: Shane Costelloe SC told the court that this was “not an allegation of scolding or reprimanding or chastising children, but one of actual serious, physical violence”

 

The children’s plight first came to light on September 1st, 2006, when a young garda found the two eldest girls, then aged nine and seven, wandering near a dangerous stream at 10pm.

Their mother had left them in the care of a very intoxicated man, later described as a “functioning alcoholic”. The girls were taken into emergency care because their mother could not be found.

She had gone drinking with her then partner. Social workers gave the two girls back to their mother a month later after she found a suitable rented flat.

Social services kept in touch in the years afterwards.

Following an unannounced house visit by social workers on May 12th, 2011, however, all of the children were taken back in to care and have remained with a number of foster parents ever since.

At that time, social workers, accompanied by two gardaí, had found two drunken, strange men in the house, while one of the children, then just 11, was looking after her younger siblings.

Each was hungry, neglected and filthy.

Opening the mother’s trial last January, Shane Costelloe SC, prosecuting, said it was the State’s case that the children had suffered not just mere physical chastisement, but actual assaults.

“This is not an allegation of scolding or reprimanding or chastising children, but one of actual serious, physical violence,” he told the court, which heard evidence from six of the children by videolink.

Each alleged their mother had regularly beaten them, sometimes with her hand or fist, or with wooden spoons, a wooden back-scratcher or with leather belts. Each agreed that she was absent, often for long periods.

Sometimes she was gone for a week during all of the five years when the family had moved from one rented flat or house to another. The children were left with her drunken male friends.

Rages

“She choked me and tried to drown me. It was a violent scene,” the girl said.

On another occasion, her mother banged her head off the kitchen counter, causing her to bleed.

Her testimony was supported by another sibling.

Giving her evidence, the younger girl said she had been regularly kept at home from school to mind her baby siblings while her mother went missing every two to three weeks.

She, too, was frequently beaten by her mother.

The eldest boy said his mother had twice pushed him down stairs and had tried to run him and his younger brother over with a car.

Regular beating with a wooden backscratcher had left him with permanent scars on his back.

The woman regularly forced her children to open their mouths by choking them, before pouring washing-up liquid down their throats.

One day, she threw them out of a car and then drove at them. They jumped on to a gate to escape.

There was little or no food in the home. Neighbours gave evidence of feeding and clothing the woman’s two sons. The boys were always hungry, constantly in dirty, ragged school uniforms and wearing oversized runners with worn soles.

Social services

The woman’s two eldest daughters first came to the attention of social workers when they were found by a garda in the care of a highly intoxicated man near a stream at about 10pm on September 1st, 2006.

The mother could not be found. She was drinking with her then partner in a pub. Social workers placed the girls in emergency care that night. A month later, however, they were given back .

Social workers kept in touch with the family from then on. However, on May 12th, 2011, following an unannounced house visit, the children were taken into care and placed with various foster parents.

The second-eldest daughter remembered the pain of separation from her siblings, some of whom she had in effect reared.

“I was very, very lonely and I really missed my brothers and sisters. It wasn’t fair,” she said.

“The social worker who called found out Mum was gone and her partner at the time was drunk. The house was in a mess. I tried to clean it but I couldn’t. There was nothing to eat. I was hungry, the boys were hungry.

“There was barely any milk left for my baby brother’s bottle. It was pretty hard. Two men, my mother’s friends, were in the house at the time. They were drunk. It was hard not to be able to live with my family.

“I was sent to stay with different people in different places at first, but I like the foster mother that I’m with now.”

It emerged during the trial that the children’s mother had claimed a total of €160,726 in social welfare between July 2006 and May 2011, including one-parent family allowances, rent allowances and supplementary welfare allowances.

She had also received back-to-school allowances and one-off payments for two of the children’s Confirmations.

Child benefit amounted to a total of €52,963 in monthly payments during those years.

Mother’s evidence

The jury heard that she had been hospitalised after overdosing on alcohol on New Year’s Eve, 2011. Shortly afterwards, she had been in bed for three months suffering from depression.

Her then partner, who was a frequent binge-drinker, had been unable to cope. She admitted she had taken a four-day break and had come home on May 12th, 2011 – the day the social workers had arrived – to find the children had been taken into care.

She blamed her partner for that. She also blamed her eldest daughter for placing her under such stress. It had been difficult raising a large family with an alcoholic partner, she claimed.

She denied leaving the children alone for lengthy periods of time.

She freely admitted slapping and beating them with a wooden spoon and leather belt. She said she had washed their mouths out with washing-up liquid too. But she rejected the allegations of more serious abuse and neglect.

Defending barrister,Paul Flannery SC, told the initial sentence hearing last week that his client had run away from home at an early age and had been raped when she was 16 while living on the streets.

Her mother, who was present in court, rejected those claims.