‘Comprehensive review’ into historical child abuse in St John Ambulance begins

Dr Geoffrey Shannon leading investigation into handling of child sex abuse claims

An investigation by The Irish Times last August revealed three men had been sexually abused by a senior figure involved in St John Ambulance in the 1990s. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

An investigation by The Irish Times last August revealed three men had been sexually abused by a senior figure involved in St John Ambulance in the 1990s. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

An independent review into the handling of historical child sex abuse allegations in St John Ambulance has commenced, with a final report expected before the end of the year.

Child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon is leading the review, which will investigate how the voluntary paramedic organisation responded to alleged abuse by a former senior member.

The inquiry will include “a comprehensive review” of all relevant files and documentation held by St John Ambulance, as well as interviews with former and current volunteers, and abuse survivors.

In a statement, Dr Shannon urged survivors who were abused in the organisation, or others with information, to contact the review team. Disclosures and those with information “will be treated with the utmost care and confidentiality,” he said.

Dr Shannon, former Government special rapporteur on child protection, estimated he would spend between now and the start of the summer gathering and reviewing documents and other information.

“Subject to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, it is my ambition that the review team will begin conducting interviews in early Autumn. If it proves possible to organise these interviews earlier, that will be arranged,” he said.

“Given the sensitive nature of this review, I believe in-person interviews are the most appropriate format,” Dr Shannon said.

It is expected the review will take at least six months to complete, with a report likely to be issued before the end of the year.

An investigation by The Irish Times last August revealed three men had been sexually abused by a senior figure involved in St John Ambulance in the 1990s. The abuse allegations made against the individual had been deemed founded by Tusla, the child and family agency.

The abuser, now in his 80s, was a senior figure in the Old Kilmainham division, and a member of the organisation from the 1950s until at least 2000, leaving under pressure to resign.

Two further alleged victims have since come forward claiming they were also sexually abused as children by the same man. Two of the five survivors, who spoke to The Irish Times, said they had reported the alleged abuse to other senior figures in the voluntary paramedic organisation at the time.

Handling of complaints

A Garda investigation into the past abuse is also ongoing, after one of the survivors made a report to gardaí late last year. A Garda spokesman confirmed “matters remain under investigation”.

The three person review team also includes Hilary Coveney, a solicitor who specialises in family law, and Dr Cian Ó Concubhair, assistant professor of criminal justice at Maynooth University.

The review will examine how the organisation handled complaints of alleged abuse that were reported at the time.

It will seek to establish if there were any other reports made to the organisation about the perpetrator, either in writing or verbally to senior figures. It will examine whether the organisation received any reports of abuse or grooming about other individuals.

The investigation will also look at current child protection practices in the organisation, and if required make recommendations for reforms.

The review team has set up a dedicated website, stjohnambulancereview.ie, with abuse survivors or others with information requested to contact g.shannon@stjohnambulancereview.ie.