Investigation into alleged child grooming case in Limerick 'in jeopardy' after posts

Fintan Walsh and David Hurley

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh and David Hurley

Allegations posted on social media by the devastated mother could have a destabilising effect on the outcome of any garda investigation into the alleged grooming

Allegations posted on social media by the devastated mother could have a destabilising effect on the outcome of any garda investigation into the alleged grooming

THE well-intentioned actions of a concerned mother could jeopardise a criminal investigation into an alleged child grooming case in Limerick, the Leader has learned.

Allegations posted on social media by the devastated mother could have a destabilising effect on the outcome of any garda investigation into the alleged grooming of a 10-year-old child, it is understood.

Specific allegations pertaining to a man, including a picture of the alleged suspect, has been shared more than 110,000 times on social media. And it has emerged that Limerick’s first known vigilante group, who track down alleged child groomers, has been involved in this particular case.

But a garda source has warned that somebody “could be seriously hurt or killed”, as a result of misinformation being spread on social media about the case.

The source has said that members of the vigilante group are “potentially exposing themselves to being a conspiracy or part of a joint enterprise within a criminal investigation.

“They could easily end up being prosecuted themselves for their actions with the best will in the world and their good intentions, but there is no protection for them.”

The Garda Protective Services Unit at Henry Street is investigating the allegation of child grooming in Limerick, after a report was filed in early January.

The suspect, whose devices are being technically examined, was questioned by gardai after he came to Henry Street voluntarily. A file is to be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Facebook headquarters in the United States has also been asked “through the appropriate legal channels” for evidence from the relevant social media accounts.

And while a lot of material has been removed from social media, at the request of gardai, the mother’s original post has been shared more than 110,000 times. A source has described this move as “reckless and could affect any future prosecution”.

“They have potentially jeopardised the case and it was a very good case. By putting it on social media, the first thing any good solicitor will say is ‘my client can’t get a fair trial’.

The mother told the Leader: “People look at us as if we have done wrong by posting it on Facebook, but we wanted to let other families know and we knew it was a risk we had to take, so no other kids would be affected.”

She said that her family has felt “anger and despair” over the past three weeks.

“It has been very stressful, especially with how long the process has been. We cut ourselves off from normal life because it has consumed us.”

The alleged victim has yet to be interviewed by gardai, the Leader understands.

According to a garda source, investigations of this nature can take up to two years, given the complexities involved in addition to the age of the alleged victim and the multi-jurisdictional dimension to it.

A leading member of the vigilante group told the Leader that the mother was contacted after she first published the original post in January.

The individual said that she is a member of a trilogy group to “help prevent [alleged] online predators”. She said that a decoy was used to contact the suspect.