Former social worker acquitted of nine counts of deception

State had alleged defendant collected children’s allowance from birth mother

A 47-year-old former social worker has walked free from court after a jury took less than 45 minutes to acquit her of nine counts of deception relating to the alleged theft of over €9,000 from the Deprtment of Social Welfare.

Jennifer O'Driscoll of St John's Terrace, World's End, Kinsale, Co Cork had denied all nine charges of deception relating to a period between January and September 2008 when she was working a social worker with the HSE in Cork.

The jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard the state alleged Ms O'Driscoll, in her role as a social worker, collected sums of between €1,000 and €1,100 in children's allowance payments to a mother-of-five to give to three foster mothers rearing the woman's children.

Prosecution counsel, Dermot Sheehan SC told the jury of six men and six women the state alleged Ms O'Driscoll failed to pass on the payments to the foster parents but had instead pocketed the money for herself and should thus be convicted of deception.

The children’s birth mother told the court with the assistance of a Polish interpreter that Ms O’Driscoll used to her ask her for money on the first Tuesday of every month and that she would give her the money as she did everything that Ms O’Driscoll told her to do in relation to the children.

“She would contact me in advance to announce she would come. On the first Tuesday of every month she used to come exclusively for money. That was child benefit money. “(She told me) that the money was going to the three houses where the children were placed,” she said.

“I did not oppose. I did not want to oppose if I wanted my children to come back to me… Jennifer arrived at my house and collected the money,” said the woman, adding that the sums varied between €1,000 and €1,100 per month.

Letter on file

Det Sgt Clodagh O’Sullivan interviewed Ms O’Driscoll in October 2016 and memos of the interview were read out to the jury including one exchange where Det Sgt O’Sullivan said Ms O’Driscoll had been very mean to ask the birth mother for the money only to pocket it herself.

The jury heard that in response, Ms O’Driscoll replied: “That is not even remotely close to anything truthful. ..... I did not take any money from that lady. I went out of my way to help her. It is very hurtful to be accused of this.”

Defence barrister, Ray Boland BL said the state had to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt and they were inviting the jury to disregard evidence from their own witnesses including evidence from Department of Social Welfare files that was incompatible with their case.

Mr Boland referred in particular to a letter on file with the Department of Social Welfare where Ms O’Driscoll informed them the children were in care and that the child benefit payments should not be paid to the birth mother but to the foster carers.

Urging the jury to pay particular heed to this correspondence, Mr Boland asked why Ms O’Driscoll would advise the department to pay money to the foster parents if she wanted to take the money from the birth mother, as alleged, and he urged them to acquit her if they had any doubt at all.

Today on the second day of the trial, the jury took just 42 minutes to unanimously acquit Ms O'Driscoll of all nine charges and Judge Sean O Donnabhain, upon hearing that there were no further charges against her, told her that she was free to go.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times