Woman jailed for child neglect at Cork Circuit Criminal Court

Defendant pleaded guilty to wilfully ill-treating and neglecting child and allowing her to be assaulted

Neighbours who alerted gardaí to a domestic disturbance were praised by a judge as she jailed a woman for neglect of her young daughter.

The woman had introduced a dangerous man into the family home which led to the child being sexually and physically abused.

"Neighbours calling the guards probably saved two lives here," said Judge Helen Boyle at Cork Circuit Criminal Court as she sentenced the woman, who is in her 50s and cannot be named to protect the identity of her daughter, to two years in jail for child neglect with one year suspended.

The defendant pleaded guilty to wilfully ill-treating and neglecting the child and allowing the child to be assaulted, ill-treated and neglected in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to the child’s health or seriously affect her wellbeing, contrary to Section 246 of the Children’s Act 2001.

Det Garda Sheena Dowling of Cork City Protective Services Unit told the court gardaí were alerted by neighbours who heard a disturbance in May 2020. When they called to the house, they found the girl had a cut and bruising to the bridge of her nose and bruised eyes.

The girl, along with her mother and stepfather, told gardaí she suffered injuries when she fell down the stairs. Gardaí returned to the house later that evening and one officer managed to talk to the girl alone in the kitchen.

The girl maintained she had fallen down stairs, but she was wearing excessively bulky clothes and extensive bruising to her arms and legs was observed. An investigation into both the stepfather and the mother was begun.

The stepfather, who has a conviction for strangling and killing his ex-girlfriend in another country, was charged with a number of offences and went on trial at the Central Criminal Court in July 2021. He was convicted of a series of offences involving the child.

These included one count of assault causing harm to the child, six charges of child cruelty involving assault, three counts of sexual assault and two counts of rape, for which Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy sentenced him to 15 years in jail in October 2021 with the final two years suspended.

On Friday at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Helen Boyle described the charges against the child’s mother as very serious as she catalogued the neglect and abuse the mother had subjected her daughter to, including striking her on the head with a remote control and a plate.

She also noted the stepfather used to hit the girl at least twice a week and the mother did nothing to protect the child. He subjected the child to terrible physical abuse amounting to torture, and the mother did not intervene.

The child was neglected in terms of not being properly fed and often went to school hungry and asked teachers for food. The school principal became concerned and contacted the child and family agency Tusla, the court heard.

The court heard in a Victim Impact Statement how the child, now in foster care and doing well, lived in fear of her stepfather after he threatened to kill her if he went to jail. She thanked gardaí and others who helped her. “My parents didn’t protect me like they should have,” she said.

Defence counsel Tom Creed SC presented a psychiatric report on the accused woman which revealed she had been beaten herself as a child by her father after her mother died when she was quite young. She was bullied at school and now lived on social welfare.

Judge Boyle noted a psychiatric report stating the woman suffered from schizophrenia and had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals on a number of occasions when she failed to take her medication. The woman accepted she was not capable of taking care of the child.

Judge Boyle noted the child’s father had left the family home when the child was quite young and the accused sought out male company, eventually meeting the child’s stepfather online, marrying him and bringing him into the family home in Cork.

The victim was no longer in contact with her mother and did not want any further contact with her, said Judge Boyle, who accepted there was no evidence to suggest the accused was aware her husband was sexually assaulting and raping her daughter.

She noted the accused was still in contact with her husband following his jailing for the various offences. She accepted the woman had been assaulted by her husband, suffering both physical and sexual violence at his hands.

She said it appeared the woman had no great insight into the damage caused to her daughter by her neglect and her tolerance of the physical abuse her husband had inflicted on the child.

Judge Boyle said one of the aggravating factors was the fact the woman had totally failed her daughter, ranging from her neglect of her by leaving her go hungry to failing to protect her from the regular assaults inflicted on the child by her husband.

The woman had no previous convictions and that, plus the fact she had pleaded guilty and spared the State both the time and expense of a trial - and more importantly spared the child the trauma of having to give evidence - were important mitigating factors.

Accepting the woman suffered from psychiatric issues, Judge Boyle said she believed the woman must accept some responsibility for what happened to her daughter and, as a consequence, deserved a custodial sentence.