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Four years after 'GPO girl' mystery, the woman behind it appeals jail sentence in Australia

She appeared in court this week to appeal her sentence.

THE WOMAN KNOWN as ‘GPO girl’, whose appearance in Dublin led gardaí to fear she was a victim of sex trafficking, has appealed a jail sentence in Australia.

Four years ago, the woman, Samantha Azzopardi, came to attention in Ireland after being found wandering near the GPO in the Irish capital. Now she is in jail in Australia after posing as a high school student aged just 13.

GPO girl

In October 2013, a young girl was found on Dublin’s O’Connell St who became known as ‘GPO girl’. She was found in a distressed state and gardaí immediately began trying to find out who she was and what happened to her. But she wasn’t who they suspected she was.

In all, more than 2,000 man-hours and over 115 lines of inquiry were pursued as part of the investigation – dubbed Operation Shepard – into her identity. The New Yorker reported that the investigation cost over €250,000.

At the time, it was believed that the girl spoke limited English, and there was limited information on who she was and what her situation was.

The girl, who was believed to be about 14 or 15 years of age, was described as 5′ 6″ tall and of a slim build with blonde hair.

On the day she was discovered, she was wearing a purple hooded top, flat black shoes, tight dark-coloured jeans, and a grey woollen jumper, which are all believed to have been purchased at a major retailer in Ireland.

Gardaí even took the unprecedented step of going to the High Court to seek permission to release a photograph of her in order to progress the investigation. It was that photograph which led to her real identity being discovered.

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At a press briefing, gardaí confirmed that they asked for assistance from the Missing Persons bureau, Interpol, a forensic science laboratory, the immigration bureau, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit, Garda Office for Youth Affairs, as well as external agencies in trying to figure out just who this girl was.

The probe also saw gardaí carry out door-to-door enquiries, set up street vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints in the vicinity of the GPO and the examination of CCTV from the city centre.

A dedicated incident room was even set up, with a 24-hour phone line. A guardian ad litem was assigned to the girl.

Identity discovered

On 5 November, the same day the photograph was released, the girl was identified as a young Australian woman. Gardaí began working with the Australian Federal Police on the issue.

The girl was named as a 25-year-old woman, Samantha Lyndell Azzopardi, in the Australian media.

According to the New Yorker, she had initially been in Ireland to visit her mother’s ex-boyfriend in Clonmel. It was him who contacted the police.

This week, almost four years to the date that she appeared across the media in Ireland, Samantha Azzopardi was back in court again to appeal a sentence handed down to her for her latest deception.

Sydney Morning Herald’s Georgina Mitchell reports that Azzopardi posed as a 13-year-old named Harper Hart and enrolled at the Good Shepherd School in Sydney in 2016.

She claimed to be under the US government’s Witness Protection Program. Police soon began investigating and the 29-year-old was arrested and charged.

She was sentenced in July to one year in jail after pleading guilty to four charges of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, NSW Police said that a woman was charged with fraud offences following an investigation by detectives.

An investigation commenced after police received information concerning suspicions about the age of a 13-year-old girl that was placed into foster care in Sydney.
[On Thursday 1 June 2017], police attended an address in Roseville Chase where they arrested the female.
The 28-year-old woman was taken to Chatswood Police Station and charged with four counts of dishonestly obtain[ing] financial advantage by deception and was bail refused to appear in Hornsby Local Court (Friday 2 June 2017.)

Calgary

10714053_10152745530084530_1059617553255468324_o Source: Facebook

Azzopardi had also come to the attention of police in Calgary, Canada, in September 2014.

Police charged her with public mischief to mislead a police officer after she claimed she was an underage victim of sex trafficking and exploitation.

Azzopardi had walked into a health care centre and claimed she was Aurora Hepburn: a 14-year-old victim of an abduction and prolonged sexual assault. She was brought to hospital and child protection services were called. Once again, police took her claims extremely seriously and all avenues were investigated.

Source: Calgary Police Service/YouTube

Officers worked with her for weeks, but were then told about the case in Dublin.

After liaising with gardaí it was determined that the woman was GPO girl. She was then charged.

The police service in Calgary released photographs of her, due to the unusual details of the case, and asked people with details to provide information on Azzopardi and her possible movements in Calgary.

Azzopardi was deported back to Australia after being sentenced to the two months that she had served in custody. Remarkably, Canadian media reported that Azzopardi went back to Ireland six months after she was deported, but then left a month later.

Appeal

On Monday of this week, Azzopardi appealed her sentence in Australia on the grounds it was too severe. Her appeal was dismissed.

A court-appointed psychiatrist had said in a report that Azzopardi has a “remarkably unstable sense of identity”, reports the SMH.

Comments are closed for legal reasons. Contains reporting from Sinéad O’Carroll and Christina Finn.

Read: The mystery of the girl found on O’Connell Street: what we know>

Read: GPO girl moving into HSE adult mental health care>

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