Trial of Aras Attracta workers accused of assaulting residents begins

First day looks at how RTE undercover video footage was obtained and stored

Paul Maguire pictured centre and Janet Traynor from RTE's Investigation Unit attending the Aras Attracta assault trial at the District Court in Castlebar.Pic Conor McKeown

Paul Maguire pictured centre and Janet Traynor from RTE's Investigation Unit attending the Aras Attracta assault trial at the District Court in Castlebar.Pic Conor McKeown

 

The trial of five care workers accused of assaulting a number of residents at the Aras Attracta care facility in Swinford, Co Mayo, began at Castlebar District Court on Monday.

Detective Sergeant James Carroll told the trial that he only became aware of files being deleted from a camera put in place by RTE’s Investigations Unit on Monday in court.

He told Judge Mary Devins that his understanding when leaving RTE in December, 2014 with video provided by the station was that there had been no deletions in footage taken by a fixed camera in Bungalow 3 of the Aras complex.

Some 190 hours of video footage was filmed covertly by RTE in the common area of the Health Service Executive (HSE) run facility between November 3rd and November 19th, 2014.

As a result of the video evidence six care workers have been charged with assault. All but one, Joan Gill, Dublin Road, Swinford, is pleading not guilty. Ms. Gill, who has pleaded guilty to five assault charges, is expected to be sentenced later this week.

The five other accused, Pat McLoughlin, Mayfield, Claremorris; Anna Ywusong Botsimbo, Lowpark, Charlestown; Kathleen King, Knockshanbally, Straide, Foxford; Christine Delaney, Lissatava, Hollymount, Co Mayo and Joan Walsh, Carrowilkeen, Curry, Co Sligo, are pleading not guilty to a single charge of assault each.

Monday’s proceedings were taken up by the chain of evidence regarding the way video footage was obtained by the RTÉ undercover team and later stored.

Head of RTE’s Investigations Unit Paul Maguire said a decision was made in the latter stages of their investigation that the breaches witnessed had to be reported to the HSE and Health Information and Quality Authority ( HIQA), They had been contacted by the gardai and asked to hold footage, secure it and they would be in touch.

They were asked to make a ‘mirror image’ copy for the gardai and Mr Maguire handed over the copy on December 5th , 2014, to Det Carroll.

Mr Maguire said he had made a decision had been made to put a fixed camera into the common area of Aras Attracta. The HSE was not consulted about this. The witness said footage was uploaded each day from the fixed camera onto a master tape. This master tape was added to each day as the footage was uploaded.

Mr Maguire said assistant researcher Pauline Dunne uploaded footage onto the master copy from the working copy. He added that original harddrive remains under lock and key in his office. When asked if the sound in the video had been distorted in any way to make voices more audible, Mr Maguire replied: “No, that is CSI stuff. That doesn’t happen in real life”.

Janet Traynor, executive producer with the Investigations Unit, said six files had been deleted from the hard drive in one day for reasons of protocol and to protect privacy or because they had no significance to the investigation. She said an exact copy of the video footage had been made which became their working copy. Ms Traynor said she was certain only six deletions had been made to the fixed camera footage.

At the request of Mr McCarthy, a copy of the original hard drive used to store collected video data is to be made available when the court resumes at 11 am on Tuesday.