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Dublin: 13°C Wednesday 28 July 2021

Jury fails to reach verdict in case of childcare worker accused of sexually assaulting four girls

The man had pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of sexually assault.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

A JURY HAS failed to reach a number of verdicts in the trial of a childcare worker accused sexually assaulting four girls in a Leinster creche.

On Monday, the jury returned five verdicts of not guilty in relation to two of the four complainants. The man was acquitted on three charges relating to the first girl and acquitted of all two charges in relation to the fourth girl.

The jury foreman had then asked Judge Elma Sheahan for more time to continue deliberations on the outstanding charges.

On day 23 of the trial yesterday, the jury in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial told the judge that they were unable to agree on verdicts for any of the remaining 18 counts of sexual assault after deliberating for 21 hours and 41 minutes.

The 29-year-old man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the children, had pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of sexually assaulting the girls at the crèche on dates between August 2014 and December 2016, when they were aged between five and eight years old.

Judge Sheahan thanked the jury for their service. She remanded the man on continuing bail and adjourned the matter to 16 June.

The trial continued despite the coronavirus outbreak, with extra measures put in place to allow the jurors to maintain social distance.

Jurors listened to closing speeches while sitting spread out around the court, rather than in the jury box and deliberated in the court room instead of the smaller jury room.

The verdicts that were delivered by the jury were by majority after one juror was discharged on Monday morning when she did not attend for jury service.

‘Small circle of friends’

The prosecution alleged the accused man sexually assaulted the girls, who were all part of a “small circle of friends”, at various locations within the creche, including an after-school room, the toilets and on the creche bus.

The allegations came to light in December 2016 when one of the girls told another child she had kissed the man’s “privates” and this was repeated to another worker in the creche.

Gardaí were notified by one of the girl’s parents and obtained CCTV footage from the creche the following day, before interviewing each complainant in January 2017.

Videos of each child’s interview with specially trained gardaí was played to the jury, and each child was then cross-examined via video-link. Their parents also gave evidence.

In her closing address, Orla Crowe SC, prosecuting, told the jury the man sexually assaulted the children in a “quick, furtive, audacious manner” in locations that were outside the line of vision of the creche CCTV cameras.

She submitted children of such a young age would not have made up such allegations and had no reason to do so.

‘Talking and sharing jokes’

However the man’s lawyers said the case was “marked by its failure to listen to the children” and that the man had been left “utterly devastated” by the false allegations made against him.

Sean Guerin SC said there had been a number of failings made by gardaí investigating the case.

He pointed to a number of inconsistencies in the case, including the fact that the second complainant admitted under cross-examination that she might have been saying things about the man that weren’t true.

He said the third child may have been handled “clumsily” by the man when he was getting her off his knee and that she agreed under cross-examination that it was not inappropriate.

Counsel submitted to the jury that they were dealing with “suggestibility” between a group of friends, who were talking and sharing jokes.

He said the fourth child changed her account of what happened to her after speaking to the first child directly before her interview with specialist gardaí.

And he said the first child appeared to have been involved in some “petty and relatively innocent jealousy” in relation to not being the man’s favourite and he said this got “completely out of hand”.

The jury was told the garda investigators took the allegations at face value and committed repeated breach of child interview guidelines.

Counsel said they did not investigate the “obvious contradictions” between the accounts the children gave in their initial garda interviews compared to what they said in later interviews.

He said gardaí used the interests of the child as a “fig leaf” to cover up the failures of the investigation.

Several of the man’s former colleagues gave evidence and praised the man’s work ethic.

They almost all expressed shock and surprise at the allegations, with one woman testifying that she would let the man mind her own children.

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Isabel Hayes

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