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Court of Criminal Justice, Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo

Former creches director avoids jail for 'roughly handling' child

Anne Davy, 66, a director of Hyde and Seek Creches, was secretly filmed in an RTÉ Investigates probe.

A FORMER DIRECTOR of the Hyde & Seek crèches, secretly filmed “roughly” handling a toddler to get him to sleep, has been spared jail.

Anne Davy, 66, was fined €4,000 today after pleading guilty at Dublin District Court to breaching childcare regulations.

Tusla, the Child & Family Agency, commenced an investigation following the 2019 broadcast of the television documentary Crèches, Behind Closed Doors. The RTÉ Investigates team went undercover to look at standards of care in the family-run preschool, which operates several premises in Dublin.

In 2019, the Minister for Children brought a prosecution with 22 charges, but the covid-19 pandemic delayed the proceedings.

Today, Anne Davy entered guilty pleas to three offences. The prosecution dropped all charges against her daughter and director Siobhan Davy and the Hyde & Seek crèche group company.

Anne Davy admitted to engaging in a practice that was disrespectful at her Tolka Road crèche on May 8, 2019, contrary to section 19.3 of the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016.

She also admitted having inadequate space per child ratios at the Shaw Street branch.

The court heard that 46 children were there on 11 September, 2018, and 35 on 19 July, 2019. However, the creche was sanctioned for 32 only.

Tusla manager Julie Nohilly, who was over childcare inspections, agreed with the prosecution that RTÉ Investigates decided to go undercover at the Hyde & Seek Tolka Road branch in April and May 2019.

Judge Anthony Halpin heard that an undercover reporter with childcare qualifications used a hidden camera on her shirt to record.

Davy was filmed as staff tried to settle children to sleep, and she assisted them with an 18-month toddler, referred to in court as Child-A.

It was Nohilly’s opinion of the video evidence that Davy “roughly handles the child in trying to settle him to sleep”.

The court heard the child’s father became “very upset” when shown the footage. Judge Halpin watched the one and a half minute video on a laptop.

The witness said the creche was sanctioned for 32 children to move freely and play.

Cross-examined by defence solicitor Michael Staines, Nohilly agreed that there were undercover reporters at three of the childcare group’s crèches.

They wanted to find anything peculiar or departures from standard practice.

The witness agreed that Davy had agreed to reduce the number of children in the creche over a period of time.

Staines submitted that childcare places are at a premium, and she had decided to do it that way rather than “throw 10 children out on the street”.

The Tulsa manager confirmed that out of the 120 hours of video obtained, the case came down to the one and a half minutes that the judge had seen.

Nohilly agreed with Mr Staines that the “undercover agent” had also tried to get Child-A to sleep but was unable and Davy then became involved.

The witness said the toddler was settling but getting back up again. The solicitor submitted that Davy had calmed the child down.

Staines said that his client was soothing the child, showing no animus, and speaking quietly.

Asked by Judge Halpin to place the incident on a one to ten scale in terms of severity, the Tusla manager said: “nine to 10, for me,” adding, “it is harmful to the welfare of a child”.

The offences carried a possible one-year sentence and, or a maximum €5,000 fine, said Bernard Condon SC, prosecuting.

Davy sat silently throughout the hearing and did not address the court. Her solicitor gave an undertaking on her behalf to never work in frontline childcare again.

Pleading for leniency, Staines said his client had been vilified in the media, on social media and “even a government minister got involved in criticising her”. She was reported to gardai and “suffered a huge amount of abuse from people out on the street”.

The solicitor said it was so bad she moved home and retired from a job she loved.

The court heard she was fined €1200 in 2005 for failing to provide adequate supervision. However, the judge held that it came under the spent convictions legislation, and he treated her as a defendant with no prior convictions.

Judge Halpin remarked that it was saddening if children were harshly dealt with, but he thought the Tusla witness’s severity assessment was harsh. He said that he would have placed it mid-scale at five.

He noted Davy’s guilty plea, the media attention and abuse she received.

Judge Halpin fined her €4000 for the disrespectful handling of the child, and the remaining two charges were taken into consideration.

She must pay the fine within six months.