A foster mother has told a child abuse trial that when she took one of the male complainants into her home he didn’t know how to use a knife and fork and had almost no teeth.
The woman was giving evidence in the trial of three men and three women. The charges against a fourth woman, the children's grandmother, were withdrawn on Tuesday by direction of the trial judge.
The remaining six accused, who cannot be named for legal reasons, include the parents, aunts and uncles of the three main child complainants. The accused live in various locations in Munster.
There are extensive reporting restrictions in place in the case to protect the welfare of the child complainants.
The Central Criminal Court heard both parents are also accused of wilfully neglecting two of their younger children.
The woman told Bernard Condon, prosecuting, she took the child into her home after she got a call from Tusla and he arrived with a social worker.
She said he came with just his school bag. “I could not get over how he was at the table. He did not know what to do with a knife and fork. We thought it was his nerves,” the woman said.
She said his clothes were dirty and his shoes a disgrace. “He didn’t have much teeth. When I showed him his toothbrush, he just didn’t know how to use it”.
The woman said the child also had a lot of old looking scrapes on his back and described his appearance as “quiet and shy”. She brought him to her GP to check the marks on his back and brought him to the barber for a haircut. He said he had never been to a barber before.
She said they went shopping because he had no clothes and the child was “all excited”.
He met his other siblings while out shopping that day and the woman became emotional on the stand as she described him saying “I hope they got new clothes as well”.
The woman said food was “massive” to the child. He could not understand how her presses were full of food and the “weekly shop was massive for him”.
She said he was a very compliant child who was eager to please “almost too much”.
“If you told him to sit on a chair he would sit on a chair”.
She said he had access to his family in the early days. He was anxious at the start. She said the social worker would tell her the child was bold at the visit but she never witnessed any bad behaviour from him herself.
The woman told the jury that in July 2017, the child first made disclosures about things that occurred in his previous home and the gardaí were contacted. That August, the child went missing and there was a massive search for him. When he was found he was wearing a strange jumper that was not his. “I brought him home. He was so hungry and dirty.”
She said after that he was afraid to leave the house alone and always checked if the house alarm was set at night.
The woman agreed with Dean Kelly, defending the child’s mother, that the boys has sometimes told lies but said it was only minor things, like a normal child.
A second foster parent who took a younger child in the family described him as being “scared and nervous” and cried silent tears but made no noise. She said she could see the tears but no sound and she had never witnessed this before. He didn’t speak for the first few days in her home.
She said the child would not eat food at the table and they had to leave it on low tables or on a chair in his room. She described the boy as having a very poor appetite.
This witness said this boy was also very dirty and had hardly any teeth. He was too scared to be washed and it was three days before he would allow them to wash him. He settled after about a week and started school.
The woman said the child never spoke about his parents. He left a few months later so he could live with another sibling.
Earlier a specialist garda interviewer accepted that she was not present when the female complainant wrote out notes relating to the allegations.
Conor Devally, defending a 27-year-old accused, suggested to the garda that as she was not present when the child wrote the notes, there were no safeguards in place to ensure that the child gave a free-flowing, spontaneous and untainted account of what happened.
The garda accepted the child came to the interview with the notes and that she was not present when the girl wrote them. She said she didn’t know where the child was when she wrote them.
“To me, these were notes that the child wrote when she started to remember things and she wrote them down,” the garda continued.
She agreed that there are guidelines in place to assist gardaí in interviewing children and acknowledged there were specific phases laid out in these guidelines, including building a rapport, open narrative account and open-ended questioning, but the garda stressed that these are guidelines and not mandatory.
“I use my experience. Every case is different. I try to use the guidelines but I also have to use my own experience and each case is completely different,” she said.
Mr Devally replied that the guidelines are there to assist a garda in “producing a reliable narrative in which the child has not been influenced”.
“They [the notes] assisted her in remembering all of the alleged incidents. When she read them, I questioned her about each incident,” the garda continued.
Mr Devally said he was suggesting to the garda that the fact the child was reading out the notes she had written by herself “all the phases in the guidelines were thrown out the window”.
“The child read it out section by section and I questioned her on each section, I agreed I was not present when she wrote the notes,” the garda said.
“You can therefore not say whether any of the guidelines to ensure free narrative, untainted, were present when she wrote them,” Mr Devally continued before the garda again confirmed she was not present when they were written.
“My sole purpose was to focus the child. She had made so many disclosures about so many people,” the garda said.
On Tuesday morning, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said that following legal argument, he had made the decision that the case against the children's grandmother was to be withdrawn and that she would be found not guilty by direction of the trial judge.
The 57-year-old woman was accused of three counts of sexually assaulting her granddaughter. She had denied the charges.
Earlier in the trial, under cross-examination by Maria Brosnan, defending the grandmother, the child said she could now not remember her grandmother doing anything to her.
The trial continues before Mr Justice McDermott and a jury.