The trial is taking place at a temporary courtroom at Croke Park
***READER DISRECTION ADVISED***
A JUNIOR infant teacher has told a child abuse trial that she found that the oldest boy in the family didn’t appear to have any joy in his life.
The teacher, who also assisted the boy with learning support in senior infants and first class, said that she felt sorry for the boy. She described him as obedient and a child who loved praise.
“I always felt he wasn’t allowed to be a child at home,” the woman said, as she said that he seemed to have been responsible for himself at home.
“He never spoke much about home. There didn’t seem to be any joy in his life. I never saw a happy little boy in front of me but he was happy at school,” the woman told the jury.
The jury in the trial of three men and three women has been hearing from teachers and the school principal from the children’s national school.
The six family members, who can't be named for legal reasons, are accused of abusing three children between 2014 and 2016. The accused are the parents, aunts and uncles of the children. They range in ages from 27 to 56 and live in various locations in Munster.
The parents are also accused of neglecting five of their children. All of the accused have denied the charges against them.
The school principal told Eilis Brennan SC, prosecuting, that the oldest child in the family ran away from the school in 2014 having been left in the school yard by his mother, as per the normal school routine.
She said the boy was quite distressed before he ran away so she was very concerned for him and decided to try and see if she could find him.
She called to his home first and the child answered the door before running to the top of stairs and sitting down, hunched with his head in his hands.
“He was shocked. I felt he was afraid he was in trouble. I tried to reassure him that he was not in trouble. I told him I was worried which was why I had called over,” the woman said.
She told Ms Brennan that there didn’t seem to be a parent in the house.
She remained on the threshold of the front door but tried to coax the boy to come down and speak to her about what was upsetting him.
The woman said she could see the kitchen, sitting room and hallway of the house from her position at the front door.
She described the conditions of the house as “horrific” and “chaotic” and said there was “a really strong disgusting odour coming from the house”.
“I was really really shocked. It was so filthy. It is hard to believe that anyone could live in that never mind five children that are coming to school every day,” the woman continued.
She said the carpet was heavily stained and there were “patches of dirt and grime everywhere”. The walls seemed to have a greasy sheen and there was dirt splattered on them. There was a pile of clothes thrown on the floor and she could see the children’s stained and dirty coats.
“The kitchen seemed to be in a dreadful condition, used cups and plates, bits of food, everything seemed to be have been thrown around,” the woman continued adding that the material on the couch in the sitting room seemed to have the same “greasy dirty sheen”.
She said the boy did not engage with her. In the meantime her deputy principal had contacted the parents and while she was there the boy’s father arrived. He took him by the hand brought him downstairs, put him in the car and took him back to school.
“There was no affection or worry shown towards him, he was more giving out to him,” the woman continued.
She had a meeting with the child’s mother that day in school and asked her if she knew why the boy was upset but the mother said he just didn’t want to go to school.
There happened to be a child psychologist in the school that day with another child so the principal spoke to him about the boy because she had concerns for his safety and welfare. She also tried to contact his social worker but she was told she was on leave for ten days.
She said she asked if she could speak to someone else and made various contacts with staff in the department.
The woman said she ultimately decided that she needed to make an official report to Tusla. “I passed on the notes that I had made about the state of the house”.
She had a follow up meeting with the boy’s parents to highlight her concerns and inform them of her decision to make an official complaint to Tusla.
“The parents didn’t seem overly shocked. They just listened but didn’t really respond. The mother tried to deflect and claimed that the boy had been bullied in school and the school had done nothing about it”.
She said the mother claimed that the boy was difficult to manage and while she bathed the other children daily, her eldest son refused to take a bath. She claimed that the bed clothes were washed daily.
“I told them I was hugely concerned and a report would be submitted to Tusla,” the woman told the jury.
She said the mother asked her if she was saying she was a bad mother.
“I told her that she had admitted that she was struggling,” the woman said before she added that she told the parents she felt Tusla would be best placed to support them.
Another teacher said the girl, the second eldest in the family, came to school with a cut lip one day. She said the child was very distressed.
She asked the father, who had brought the child to school, what had happened and he said she had fallen on the way to school.
He then said to the child “That will teach you not to do it again”. The teacher said she was “alarmed” by this statement from the father.
She said in senior infants she noticed that the child had vomit on her jacket one morning in school. She said she pointed this out to her mother and spoke to her about hygiene. The child continued to come to school with the vomit on her jacket for about a week or two weeks.
She said the same child had visible head lice and she spoke to the parents about it but it was a week before the head lice were dealt with.
Another teacher, who had both the girl and the third eldest child, a boy, in junior infants spoke about how both children would regularly have dirty faces, hands and nails, stained uniforms and dirty and smelly lunchboxes.
She said she set up a weekly report, on an A4 page, on which she would observe the children every day in relation to their face, hands, lunchbox, homework and tick the box if they were in order or place an x in the box if there was an issue.
She said the parents had the same sheet and were regularly spoken to about the need to have the children clean for school.
She said the mother regularly did the girl’s homework and she knew this because she recognised that the handwriting was different to what the child did in school and also because the child told her Mammy did her homework.
She said she regularly spoke to the mother about the need to allow the child to complete her own homework but she continued to do it.
The teacher described the girl as “a lovely little girl who was quite confident and got on well with her peers” while she described her brother as being “extremely nervous” when speaking to adults.
The teacher agreed with Dean Kelly SC, defending the mother, that she had said previously that it appeared to her that the parents were not coping.
She also accepted a suggestion from counsel that it was “a new one” to her for a parent to be completing junior infant homework.
Another teacher told the jury that the father brought the eldest boy to school and he was quite severely sunburned. When they asked the father if he had applied sun-cream he said the child refused to allow it to be applied.
They were due to go on a school tour that day but the child was not well enough to go so she asked the father to bring him home. She advised the father to keep the boy indoors and comfortable, give him Calpol and keep him hydrated.
Before the child left the school she and principal applied after sun to him, with his permission. She said there was no difficulty in putting the cream on the child. She reported this incident to the deputy principal who in return reported it to Tusla.
She said when the boy was in second class, he ran away from school again after he asked if he could use the toilet when the children were in the school yard on their little break. The gardaí were alerted.
Another teacher spoke about an occasion when the older boy was in third class and his uncle came to her classroom and said he wouldn’t come into the classroom.
When she went to him he was crouched down and refusing to move. They eventually managed to move him onto a chair but he sat on it in the foetal position. He would not speak to his father or uncle.
The teacher advised the two men to return home. The school principal and secretary tried to speak to him but he wouldn’t talk back. They then carried him on the chair down to his classroom after he refused to speak to his cousin and best friends when they left class in an attempt to speak to him.
She said he only spoke to her when she started talking to him about a match she had been at herself the night before. “He came to then and he was fine for the rest of the day,” the teacher replied.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.