Care assistant convicted of two assaults on disabled man

Assaults captured on CCTV footage in decommissioned ward at HSE-run home

A 51-year-old care assistant at a HSE-run home for people with intellectual disabilities has been remanded on bail for sentence after she was convicted of two counts of assaulting a 60-year-old autistic resident of the facility while taking him for a walk.

Mary Wall from Harbour View Court, Windmill Road, Youghal, Co Cork, had denied two counts of assaulting Michael Murphy at St Raphael's Centre in Youghal on February 20th, 2015, contrary to section 2 of the Non Fatal Offences against the Person Act.

But Judge Terence Finn found Wall guilty of both counts following a three-hour hearing at Youghal District Court and he adjourned sentence to allow Mr Murphy's family prepare Victim Impact Statements regarding the assaults on their brother who has been in care since he was six.

The assaults happened when Wall was working as a care assistant providing care for Mr Murphy who was described as severely autistic with intellectual disabilities, including being unable to speak with a tendency to vocalise by screeching when he became agitated.


One assault involved Wall approaching Mr Murphy after he began vocalising while lying on a sofa in a decommissioned ward, St Kieran’s and putting her hand under his head and pushing him up to get him to a bathroom to engage in water therapy where he turns on taps and plays with the water

The second assault, which happened just minutes later in the same area, involved Wall slapping Mr Murphy in the stomach when he was again vocalising loudly and she was trying to again get him to go the bathroom to engage in water therapy which he enjoys and calms him down.

Judge Finn said Wall did not believe what she did were assaults but he believed her actions had to be judged in the context of St Raphael’s and the fact that Mr Murphy was a vulnerable person without the ability to express his objection and he was satisfied they were both assaults

The incidents came to light after community TV producer Oliver Leamy erected a security camera in the decommissioned ward where he was storing his cameras and, after he viewed the CCTV footage, he checked the HSE website on what to do before alerting management at St Raphael's.

St Raphael's director of services Susan Wall viewed the footage and said she believed Wall's actions, putting her hand to Mr Murphy's head and hitting him in the stomach, were not appropriate contacts to redirect Mr Murphy away from his vocalising behaviour and both were assaults.

Very agitated

Wall told the court that Mr Murphy had become very distressed some two months earlier after four other patients were transferred to St Colman’s Ward where he resided and he got very agitated as the new arrivals interrupted his routine.

She said that when agitated, Mr Murphy could vocalise very loudly and start to strip and tear at his skin and he could become very aggressive but one of the ways of redirecting his behaviour when he started to vocalise was to bring him to the bathroom to turn on the taps which helped distract him.

On the morning in question, she found that he had stripped off his clothes and soiled himself and she showered him and gave him breakfast before bringing him for a walk to the decommissioned ward, St Kieran’s where the incidents were captured on camera.

“I don’t believe they were assaults. They were gestural prompts to get him to go to the bathroom to play with the water,” said Wall, adding she did not intend to hit him but she was afraid that if she did not stop him vocalising, then his behaviour would escalate and he would start to harm himself.

Wall said she had received just four hours on how to deal with people with intellectual disability while completing a Level 5 Fetac course to become a care assistant in 2008 and she was never given any specific directions on how to deal with Mr Murphy other than being told to “just do your best”.

Following conviction on Friday, defence barrister Stephen O’Riordan asked Judge Finn to be as lenient as possible, pointing out his client had an unblemished record at St Raphael’s prior to this and she would now almost certainly lose her job there and so would pay a heavy price.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times