A garda child specialist interviewer has said that she didn't follow some of the “good practice” recommendations when interviewing a child about allegations that a care worker sexually assaulted her in a créche.
The 29-year-old accused, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the complainants, has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 23 counts of sexually assaulting four girls at a créche in Leinster on dates between February 2015 and December 2016. They were aged between five and eight at the time.
The trial has so far heard evidence of one complainant, now aged 11. The jury viewed a video of the then eight-year-old girl being interviewed by a specialist garda in January 2017, a month after the allegations came to light.
The child told the garda that the man touched her “privates” in various locations within the créche, including in a book corner in the after school room, on the créche bus, in a toilet cubicle and on a windowsill in one room.
She said she didn't like it and it “nearly always” hurt her. She said the man touched her with his hand and with his phone when it was buzzing. She said he would ask her if she liked it and she said no. The girl was then cross-examined by defence counsel via video-link.
The jury heard that Garda Louise Curtin, a garda specialist interviewer, assisted in the interviewing of this complainant.
Gda Curtin agreed with Sean Guerin SC, defending, that she didn't establish with the child the importance of telling the truth, the issue of fantasy versus reality, whether she may be suggestible or whether there may be alliance with her and other children in the créche.
Good practice guidelines
She accepted that each of these issues are dealt with in good practice guidelines that were circulated during her training.
The garda said she was advised in garda training college not to broach the subject of fantasy versus reality with a child, as it may confuse them.
“So someone in Templemore is telling you to ignore part of the guidelines. The printed manual that the gardaí circulate says you should follow these guidelines but in Templemore they told you not to ask these questions,” Mr Guerin asked.
She agreed that this was the advice given to her during her training.
When asked if she would agree that suggestibility is a real issue in a case where a group of children have been talking together in a créche, the witness replied that the information they obtain is from the child only during the DVD process.
She accepted that the issue of whether the child spoke to another complainant was on the agenda that day as a question to ask her but said this was in the context of establishing who she first told about the allegations.
Mr Guerin suggested to Gda Curtin that establishing whether the complainant was suggestible was actually very important in this case.
“We were aware that there was a conversation and that if the complainant mentioned that we were prepared to discuss it. Not all points in the plan would be covered because the child may not voluntarily broach the subject,” the witness replied.
“We are providing an opportunity for the child to tell her best account of real events that occurred. It is important to cover who she first spoke to, so the investigation team can move forward as to who also needs to be interviewed,” she continued.
She agreed that she was aware that the complainants were in a friendship group, which Mr Guerin suggested meant that there was a possibility of “an alliance that may affect the credibility of the allegation”.
Gda Curtin accepted that this alliance was not something covered while interviewing the complainant.
“It was just something we didn't consider. I have never covered suggestibility and alliance in the DVD process,” Gda Curtin replied after she agreed that she may have covered over 100 such interviews with children in the ten years she has been working in this area.
She agreed that there is a process before interviewing children on DVD, during which if it is established that the child is suggestible or that there may be alliance that may affect the credibility of an allegation, they are deemed unsuitable for the interview conducted on DVD.
Gda Curtin agreed that no questions were asked of the complainant that may suggest that she was not suitable for the DVD interviewing process.
The trial continues before Judge Elma Sheahan and a jury of seven men and five women.