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Tears in court as mother is found guilty of starving and abusing her children for five years

The woman was convicted of choking and attempting to drown one daughter, and trying to hit her two sons with her car.

galway court Galway Circuit Criminal Court. Source: Google Maps

A 39-YEAR-OLD mother was found guilty this afternoon of beating, starving and neglecting eight of her children over a period of years while at the time claiming over €160,000 in social welfare payments.

The woman, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the children, faced 42 charges of child cruelty and neglect, by wilfully assaulting, ill-treating, neglecting, or abandoning the children, or causing or allowing the children to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, or abandoned, in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to the children’s health or seriously affect their well-being.

The incidents were alleged to have occurred at six different locations on dates between 1 September 2006 and 12 May 2011, contrary to section 246 (1) and (2) of the Children’s Act 2001.

She denied all charges against her.

The jury of nine men and three women took just under four hours of deliberations, spread over two days, at Galway Circuit Criminal Court to find the woman guilty of 29 charges of child cruelty and neglect and not guilty of the remaining 13 charges.

The woman was acquitted by the jury of 12 charges relating to the alleged cruelty, abandonment and neglect of some of the children at two locations between 2006 and 2008.

They also acquitted her of a single charge which related to allegations made by her eldest daughter that her mother had cut her arm with a blade while showing her how to self-harm properly.

Wearing a T-shirt, jeans and jacket, the woman remained expressionless, sitting behind her defence team, while the jury’s 42 unanimous verdicts were read to the court this afternoon.

In contrast, her eldest daughter burst into tears as she sat at the back of the courtroom flanked by her foster mother and a friend.

Her mother had initially pleaded not guilty to 44 charges of cruelty and neglect while six additional charges were added to the indictment during the nine-day trial.

Following legal argument, however, Judge Karen O’Connor directed the jury yesterday to find the accused not guilty ‘by direction of the trial judge’ of eight of the charges which pertained to one of the younger children, leaving 42 charges before the court.

Following the verdicts this afternoon, Judge O’Connor remanded the woman on continuing bail with several strict bail conditions attached, to appear before the court again in April for sentence.

The matter has been listed for mention next Tuesday to confirm the exact  sentence date in April.

Judge O’Connor directed victim impact reports regarding the children, be prepared for the court prior to sentence.

‘She choked me and tried to drown me’

Opening the trial last Tuesday week, Mr Shane Costello, SC, prosecuting, said it was the State’s case that what was done to the children between 2006 and 2011, went way above and beyond mere physical chastisement and amounted to actual assaults.

This is not an allegation of scolding or reprimanding or chastising children, but one of actual serious, physical violence.

In his closing address to the jury yesterday, Mr Costello asked the jury to consider that what the mother did on one occasion, when she drove her car at two of her sons, causing them to believe they would be run over, had amounted to sadism.

The mother was convicted by the jury of charges relating to that incident.

Six children gave evidence to the trial by video link last week.

They all alleged their mother regularly beat them, sometimes with her hand or fist, or with wooden spoons, a wooden back-scratcher or with leather belts.

They agreed that she was regularly absent from the various houses the family had moved to during the five-year period – sometimes for up to a week – while they were left in the care of their mother’s drunken male friends.

Her eldest daughter, who is now 19, recalled how her mother flew into a rage one day and dragged her by the hair to the kitchen sink where she tried to drown her when she was around 12, because she had said a bad word.

During cross-examination by defence counsel, Mr Paul Flannery SC, the girl, whose taped testimony was replayed to the jury this morning by request, said her mother had tried to kill her.

She choked me and tried to drown me.  It was a violent scene.

The jury found the mother guilty of that offence.

The girl had outlined another incident where she alleged her mother took her arm and cut it with a a blade when she was 13, to show her how to self-harm properly.

The jury found the mother not guilty of that charge.

Her mother also hit her head off the kitchen counter on yet another occasion, she said, causing her to bleed.  The jury found the mother guilty of that charge.

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The girl’s evidence was corroborated by her younger sister, who is now aged 16.

She told the jury last week she witnessed the violent incidents involving her older sister.

She said she was regularly kept home from school herself to mind her baby siblings while her mother went missing every two to three weeks, for up to four or five days at a time.  She too was frequently beaten by her mother.

The eldest boy, who is now aged 15, told the jury his mother had pushed him down the stairs on two occasions and had tried to run him and his younger brother over with a car.

He said she had regularly beaten him with a wooden back-scratcher and he had permanent scars on his back and shoulders as a result.

The children said their mother regularly forced them to open their mouths by choking them, before pouring washing up liquid down their throats.

The boys said their mother had thrown them out of the car one day and then drove at them.  They were forced to jump onto a gate to avoid being hit.

The jury convicted the woman of the charges pertaining to those offences.

The children recalled there was little or no food in the various house they had stayed in and their mother would regularly go missing, sometimes for days at a time, and come back hungover.

Neighbours gave evidence of having to feed and clothe the woman’s two sons.  They agreed that the boys were always hungry, and they regularly took them in and fed them.

They said the boys looked malnourished and were constantly in dirty, ragged school uniforms, wearing oversized runners with worn soles.

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Ann Healy

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