Judge condemns ‘vigilante’ treatment of intellectually disabled man
Mr Justice Peter Kelly said he was very glad to hear Facebook had removed video
The judge, who viewed the video, said such “vigilantism” is an “appalling state of affairs”.
The president of the High Court has strongly criticised a “vigilante” child protection group over a “sting” operation which has had “serious consequences” for a vulnerable intellectually disabled man.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly also described as “appalling” that a video, since taken down by Facebook, was posted on social media featuring the man — who is a ward of court on foot of evidence he lacks capacity — being confronted by several people and aggressively “interrogated”.
The judge, who viewed the video, said such “vigilantism” is an “appalling state of affairs”, has “most serious” consequences for a very vulnerable person who lacks the mental ability to have intent, and cannot assist the efforts of gardaí to bring people to justice.
He noted that, as part of the man’s disability, the man has an addiction to internet dating sites, and was in contact with a female on a site which states users cannot register unless they are aged 19. The man had told carers he had understood the female was 19 and stopped contact when she told him she was 13, but later agreed to her suggestion to meet for a “hot chocolate”.
When he went to meet the female, he was met by two women and three men, grabbed by the arms, aggressively questioned by one of the women, and a video of this was posted on social media.
Gardaí, who are aware of the man’s disability, came on the scene and took the man away for his own safety.
The matter was raised on an urgent basis on Monday before Mr Justice Kelly, who runs the wards of court list. A care worker at the man’s residential placement told the court the man is very distressed and suicidal as a result of the encounter with the five people and the video.
As the video had been viewed by tens of thousands of people, there is serious concern not just for the man’s safety but also the safety of other intellectually disabled people in his placement, the care worker said.
The judge made orders preventing any unauthorised persons coming within 200 metres of that placement. He stressed people with intellectual disability “need to be treated with respect and dignity” and the “last thing” they need is to be confronted by “a baying mob screaming for vengeance against a person who, because of their disability, cannot have mental intent of a deliberate type”.
These people presumably did not know the man has an intellectual disability and is a ward of court who is brain damaged, he said. He hoped, if they knew that, they would not have done what they did. The video made clear these people “are about a particular task” and do it in a way that proved to be a “very frightening” experience and a “huge setback” for the man.
The judge also said the HSE and general solicitor for wards of court could contact Facebook with a view to having the video and other material about the man deleted. If that was not done by 2pm on Tuesday, he said he would hear an application for orders to that effect.
On Tuesday, he was told Facebook had been very co-operative and had taken down the video and related material as a violation of its “community standards”.
Mr Justice Kelly said he was very glad to hear that. The whole experience has had the “most unfortunate” consequences for the man and it was fortunate gardaí were alerted to the “interrogation” and removed him for his own safety as those people involved “did not have good intentions for him”.
Natalie McDonnell BL, for Patricia Hickey, general solicitor for wards of court, said it was clear from the video the man had been “at grave risk”.
David Leahy BL, for the HSE, said the good news was the video was gone and the man appeared to have stabilised somewhat. A psychiatric assessment was being brought forward, he added.
The judge had earlier noted the man, as part of his disability, has an addiction to internet sites where he hoped to meet a “lady friend” with whom he could settle down. Unfortunately, he had met only “charlatans”, including a woman who obtained his bank account details from him.
His vulnerability to such persons meant he had, on occasions in the past, been deprived of a phone and internet access. However, because he values internet communication, he had been permitted some access under supervision and this incident arose because the man appeared to have evaded supervision by his carers and gone on the dating site.
The judge said he would make orders preventing the man having any phone or internet access as it has proved so detrimental to him.