DPP decides not to prosecute St John Ambulance alleged abuser

Independent review into historical child abuse claims in first-aid body ongoing

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has decided not to pursue a prosecution against a man who allegedly sexually abused a number of boys in St John Ambulance in the 1990s.

The man, a former senior figure in the voluntary first-aid organisation, is alleged to have sexually abused several teenage boys who were members of St John Ambulance’s Old Kilmainham division in Dublin.

Child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon is currently conducting an independent review into historical child abuse in the organisation, with a report due in the coming months.

To date, at least seven men have alleged they were sexually abused by the same former senior figure. The man, now in his 80s, was a member of the organisation from the 1950s until at least 2000, leaving under pressure to resign after one survivor reported the alleged abuse.

Previously gardaí investigated complaints from three men that they had been sexually abused by the man, with the DPP directing in 2018 that no prosecution be taken in those cases.

Individual allegations

At that time, the DPP said its prosecutors had considered the three cases separately, and there was no “independent evidence” to corroborate the individual allegations. The accused had made no admissions in interviews with gardaí.

Separately, Tusla, the State child and family agency, deemed child abuse allegations made against the man to be founded, following their own investigation.

Tusla makes findings of whether abuse allegations are founded or unfounded based on the balance of probabilities, which is a lower bar than the threshold of beyond reasonable doubt required in criminal cases.

Following reports in The Irish Times detailing the St John Ambulance historical abuse allegations in 2020, several other men came forward alleging they had been sexually abused as teenagers by the former senior figure.

In late 2020, one alleged victim, Mark Pender, made a complaint to gardaí about the alleged abuse, sparking a fresh Garda investigation.

Gardaí interviewed Mr Pender and the accused, and sent a file on the case to the DPP. In recent weeks, the State prosecutor again directed no prosecution be taken, citing “insufficient” evidence.

Standard of proof

In a letter last week, a senior prosecutor advised Mr Pender that, while the DPP had considered his statement to gardaí, “there was no other evidence that could corroborate or support the allegations”.

“Based on the very high standard of proof in a criminal case, the evidence available was insufficient to prosecute,” the letter said.

The prosecutor said the decision was “not a question of this office deciding who we believe”.

The letter stated “the decision to prosecute has to be based on an assessment about what evidence can be put before a court in an individual case and whether it is strong enough given the very high standard of proof”.

At least three other men have reported allegations they were sexually abused by the former senior figure to Dr Shannon’s ongoing independent review, but have not made formal complaints to the Garda.

The independent review team has interviewed a large number of witnesses, including abuse survivors, and current and former volunteers. The team is expected to complete its report into the past abuse in the first half of this year.

Anyone with information related to historical child abuse in St John Ambulance has been asked to contact Dr Geoffrey Shannon and the independent review at: g.shannon@stjohnambulancereview.ie

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times

READ MORE