Australian-based relatives of Shane "Jack" Watson, the homeless man who died in Dublin last week, have said they were unaware of his criminal past and only discovered he was in Ireland when they learned of his death.
Watson, who used a number of aliases, was convicted by a court in the Australia state of Victoria under the name "Jack Steele" in 2008 for the indecent assault of two girls under the age of 16. A court registrar said that he received a two-year sentence for the crime. He was deported from Australia in 2015. The Irish Sun newspaper reported that he had amassed about 40 convictions over a period of almost 20 years.
Public records show that Watson (51), who was an Irish citizen, emigrated to Australia as a child in 1972 and that he was deported under Section 501 of Australia’s Migration Act because of his crimes.
The law permits the authorities to remove an individual from the country if there is a significant risk that the person would engage in criminal conduct or present a danger to the community.
Watson was estranged from his family and kept his criminal past a secret, helped by the fact that he had used another name. His past was also unknown to homeless activists in Dublin who had helped him, and to the Home Sweet Home group who he worked with as a chef during the organisation’s occupation of the vacant Apollo House office block last Christmas.
A cousin in Australia, who only gave her name as Genevieve, said his family knew nothing about his convictions and that they had no knowledge of where he was for years.
“Unfortunately, there’s a big hole in our knowledge about Shane’s move to Ireland as he has been estranged from his family for 17 years. We had no idea where or how he was until we received the news of his death,” she told The Irish Times. She said that his convictions might explain why he had estranged himself from his family for so long.
Watson’s son Courtland said that he had no knowledge of his father or his crimes, beyond what he read in the media, and did not wish to comment.
The homeless man was found unconscious outside the Superdry shop on Suffolk Street in Dublin city centre at 4am last Thursday and later pronounced dead in hospital.
Home Sweet Home cancelled a vigil for homeless people which had been planned for Thursday evening outside Apollo House on Tara Street in Dublin city. The group said it was "shocked" at learning that Watson had been deported from Australia for "very serious crimes".
Homeless campaigners who knew Watson expressed horror at learning about the crimes he was convicted of in Australia, and that he had kept them a secret.
“I am sick. I am disgusted. I feel like such a fool,” said Keira Gill who gave out food and hot drinks to Watson and other homeless individuals from tables on the street through her charity, A Lending Hand. “I am sickened that the authorities knew about his crimes and we didn’t.”
Natasha Morgan, a volunteer with Feed Our Homeless Inner City Dublin who worked at Apollo House, expressed disappointment at learning about Watson’s crimes “because of how he was in Apollo”.
“He never gave me any reason to think that he was any of those things that he was convicted of. I don’t agree with it. If I had known anything like that, I would not have associated with him,” she said.
Temple Garner, a chef who worked closely with Apollo House, said he was not surprised about what has emerged about Watson's past since his death.
“People aren’t on the streets for no reason,” he said. “People find themselves destitute for various reasons. You are not in there to judge people – you are there to help them.”