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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 29 September 2020
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Trafficked woman was locked into cannabis growhouse from the outside

A court today found gardaí failed to identify the woman as a victim of human trafficking.

File photo of cannabis grow house
File photo of cannabis grow house
Image: Coleen Whitfield via Flickr

THE HIGH COURT has ruled that gardaí failed to identify a victim of forced trafficking resulting in the woman being imprisoned at the Dóchas Centre women’s prison in Mountjoy for two and a half years for a crime she was forced to commit.

Ms P, a 54-year-old Vietnamese woman, was trafficked to Ireland and forced to work in a cannabis growhouse at an industrial estate in west Dublin. In November 2012, gardaí raided the premises, which was locked from the outside with padlocks and steel roller shutters.

Inside, they found the woman in a small bedroom adjacent to the rooms containing the plants and she was arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance with intent to supply. Gardaí claim the total market value of the cannabis plants was €940,800.

Officers subsequently failed to identify the Vietnamese woman as a victim of human trafficking and she has spent the past two and a half years in prison awaiting trial for a crime other people forced her to commit.

During interviews with gardaí, the woman had given an account of her time at the growhouse. She had been there for a month and her job had been to turn the heat lights on and off at specified times. Food was brought to her by men who “made it clear to her that she was not allowed to leave the building”. The woman said she had expected a job cleaning or minding children when she was brought to the country.

A sergeant at Store Street Garda Station had told the woman’s solicitor that it was possible she may have been a victim of human trafficking and had mentioned it in an application for an extension of her detention. However the woman was still charged and has been awaiting trial without bail.

Judgement

In her judgement today, Justice Iseult O’Malley found failures in the garda investigation and in State policies and procedures for identifying victims of human trafficking.

She said what happened in this case is “not satisfactory”, pointing out that it is now two years since the woman first sought a decision on the issue.

In this particular case, no theory has been put forward by the respondents [the gardaí] which would plausibly explain the fact that the applicant [Ms P] was locked into the premises in circumstances that would not suggest that she was in control of the situation.

Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) conducted a full assessment of the woman’s case and found her to be a victim of trafficking. They appeared at the High Court as expert witnesses.

Legal officers Virginija Petrauskaite said today the organisation is delighted with the result and said the State must now ensure Ms P’s immediate release. She added that the Vietnamese woman now needs “support and protection after her long ordeal”.

This comprehensive judgement reinforces what we have been advising the Department of Justice for a number of years. Gardaí cannot identify victims of trafficking while simultaneously investigating them for drug crimes. An independent expert should be appointed to identify victims of trafficking, which would allow An Garda Síochána to get on with their criminal investigations.

This case is not an isolated one, according to MRCI, citing the cases of two Vietnamese men in Carlow last month who were acquitted of drug crimes after a year in prison. Gardaí had again failed to identify them as trafficking victims.

“There are many others in prison awaiting trial under the same conditions; it is imperative that their cases are reviewed by an independent expert, such as a judge or similar authority, so that they can be properly assessed for indicators of trafficking to ensure that Ireland is not jailing victims of trafficking for forced labour.”

Read: Two men freed after cannabis arrest, saying they had been trafficked into Ireland>

Read: Some convicted migrants may have been forced to commit crimes by human traffickers>

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