Gardaí who removed a two-year-old Roma boy from his home in Athlone last October because he looked too fair-haired and pale-skinned, dismissed as irrelevant the fact that he was medically diagnosed as albino.
The fact that his father told gardaí on the night he was taken that he was albino was not included in the Garda internal report into the incident, although two members of the force confirmed to the children’s ombudsman this information had been passed on.
It also emerged in the ombudsman’s report that the member of the public who contacted gardaí in October about the boy, Child A, had seen him with his parents at a festival in Co Clare three months earlier but only became concerned about him after hearing the Little Maria story from Greece.
Her original email of October 21 was to the Missing Persons Bureau at Garda HQ and was referred on the next day to gardaí in Athlone, retaining her subject title “suspected child abduction” which the Garda internal report said fuelled a sense of risk and urgency.
Sergeant G in Athlone checked for any records of previous child protection concerns relating to Child A and found none, but in consultation with Inspector H it was decided to appoint Garda J, who knew the family, to conduct inquiries.
Garda J was put on the case at 5.30pm on October 22 and quickly expressed surprise that despite knowing the family, he had no knowledge of the existence of Child A. He called to Child A’s home at 7pm and asked his parents for birth certificates for their children which they produced.
Three discrepancies were noted between the birth certificate for Child A and his older sister. The father’s name did not appear on the older sister’s certificate, her mother’s name was different from that of Child A, and the mother’s signature was differed from that on Child A’s certificate.
Ms Logan established that the father was not at the birth of the older sister, the grandmother’s name was entered in error by the hospital as the mother’s name, and the mother’s signature differed because she could not write at the time of the older child’s birth but was able to print her name by the time Child A was born.
The couple voluntarily went to the Garda station while further inquiries were made and DNA tests were arranged, but they had no interpreter present as gardaí felt they had sufficient English to understand what was going on. Ms Logan disagreed with this.
Portiuncula Hospital was able to confirm that night that Child A’s mother had given birth to a baby boy on the date on the birth certificate but could provide no other information and attempts to contact the local social work team and a support worker from Barnardos failed as it was after hours.
It was decided to invoke section 12 of the Child Care Act to remove Child A from his parents and he was placed with foster parents. The next day, the social work team confirmed they knew Child A and had no doubts about his identity, as did the Barnardos worker.
The social work team also put the gardaí in touch with the public health nurse who had known him since birth and had full details of his medical history, including his albinism. It was decided not to await the results of the DNA tests and to return Child A to his parents.
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