A case where two parents were convicted of neglect of and cruelty to their young daughter was the first instance of “faith-based abuse” prosecuted in Ireland, gardaí have said.
The married couple, originally from North Africa, had pleaded not guilty to two charges of assault causing serious harm and three charges of child cruelty at the family home in Dublin on dates between June 28th and July 2nd, 2019.
Speaking outside the court following the conviction, Det Insp Brian Downey said the nine-year-old child had been abused during an "exorcism" at the hands of her parents.
After a 12-day trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, a jury of six men and five women found each parent guilty of all counts. The jury heard evidence that at one stage the father told a detective that he had carried out a ritual to get a "devil" to leave the child's body.
“This is the first case I think in Ireland where we had faith-based abuse,” Det Insp Downey said. “The child had suffered at the hands of her parents an exorcism, which involved pain, burning, cutting, choking and ultimately a serious, serious assault,” he said.
The child had been left with major injuries, as a result of the “horrendous physical abuse”. The young girl had been left “incapable of having any control over her body, she can no longer see, hear, touch, she can’t swallow”, the garda said.
The girl requires care on a 24/7 basis, and “will not recover”, the garda told reporters.
Parents as ‘perpetrators’
The family’s children have been taken into care by Tusla, the State child and family agency. They had since been placed in “very good homes and they’re doing well”.
“The sad part about this . . . is An Garda Síochána are giving this interview, the reason for that is the parents were the perpetrators of the serious injuries,” Det Insp Downey said.
The child had been in the country for about three months before the incident took place. “There’s no winners in this, we have a family that is broken,” he said.
The garda said the faith-based abuse case was likely an “exception” rather than the rule, but added gardaí would pursue any information about other similar incidents.
“I know our colleagues in other European countries are dealing with some similar issues, but we’ve never had [this] before here,” he said.
The Garda had liaison officers who were connected to different communities and faiths, to follow up on any information about similar crimes.
“A nine year old relies on their parents for support and protection, and when that’s taken away it’s traumatic,” he said.
The crimes involved in the case were particularly “horrendous” for detectives to investigate, he said.
The trial heard medical evidence that the child’s brain injuries were a result of a combination of blunt-force trauma and violent shaking of the head.
The injuries to the head were the cause of the child losing consciousness and ultimately suffering permanent neurological damage.
One medical expert said that bruising around the face was indicative of blows such as caused by punching. He said the child suffered swelling of the brain and subdural haematoma, or bleeding between the skull and the brain surface, and had bleeding in both eyes.
The parents cannot be named to protect the anonymity of the child.
The jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts on all counts.
The couple also stand convicted of intentionally or recklessly causing serious disfigurement to the child, causing her serious harm, on occasions between June 28th and July 2nd, 2019. This charge relates to multiple bruises, bite marks and burns found on the child after she was hospitalised on July 2nd.
Two of the neglect charges relate to each parent allowing the other to assault the child. The final charge is one of wilful neglect of the child in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering or injury to her health or seriously affect her wellbeing by failing to provide adequate medical aid.
Judge Nolan remanded the couple in continuing custody until their sentence date on January 24th, 2022, and asked that any reports be obtained before that date.
Anne Rowland, prosecuting, asked that a victim impact statement be directed. She said this would not be from the victim herself, but on her behalf from her carers.