Court hears girl had weeping lesions all over her body and face and chronic head lice infection
A TWELVE-year-old girl who suffered from neglect at the hands of her parents had to be cut out of a jumper because it was stuck to lesions seeping from her body.
The horrific account of what the young girl suffered was outlined in Castlebar Circuit Court last week where her mother (46) and stepfather (56) each pleaded guilty to once count of wilful neglect of a child between December 27, 2016 and January 17, 2017. The accused person cannot be named due to reporting restrictions imposed to protect the identity of the victim, who is now 14 years old.
Mr Patrick Reynolds, counsel for the prosecution, informed Judge Rory McCabe that on December 15, 2016, the girl was sent home from her national school with a severe case of head lice. On December 27, 2016, she was brought to her GP suffering from a rash and blisters, with a a golden crust all over her body and feeling unwell.
She was referred to Mayo University Hospital where the doctor said she was suffering from a severe weeping rash all over her body and face. The infection of head lice was described as ‘chronic’ and the hospital staff had to cut six inches of her hair to treat it.
A hospital report noted that she was underweight - weighing only 30kg - there were signs of tooth decay, her clothes were dirty and the she was suffering with an infection for a long time. She was in Mayo University Hospital for eight days and when the accused were asked to bring in clothes for the girl, they brought boys clothes.
When she was discharged, the doctors advised that the girl should wear cotton clothes and gave instructions to the accused on how to treat the girls wounds.
The girl was readmitted two weeks later after she became infected again. The doctors noted she was not wearing cotton and it was their view that the post hospital treatment was not complied with.
Sergeant Hugh O’Donnell said Tusla were notified in January 2107 and the family home was described as filthy. A care order was put in place and the girl went to reside with her aunt.
When interviewed, the girl said her jumper, which she wore for a week, would get stuck to her spots. She had to take a shower to try to get it unstuck and eventually had to be cut out of it. She added she would get stuck to the bed sheets due to the weeping spots on her body and would have to come down the stairs on her bottom because of the pain.
The court was told the the girl lived with her older brother and younger step-brother along with her mother and step-father. Sgt O’Donnell said the girl’s mother suffered from epilepsy and was often sedated by her medication and had difficulties caring for her daughter. He said her partner acted as father for the three children and would drive them to and from school and share in the cooking.
Judge McCabe was informed that since the care order was put in place, the two accused persons have interacted positively with Tusla and the young girl returned to the family home at Christmas. Their interaction with Tusla was to cease in six months time and Sgt O’Donnell said he called unannounced to the family home and found the house to be clean. He said neither of the defendants had previous convictions.
When questioned by Mr Patrick Murphy, counsel for the girl’s mother, Sgt O’Donnell agreed there had been a complete turnaround in the family home since January 2017, and that his client’s epilepsy was now better managed.
Mr Murphy said his client had a horrendous relationship with her daughter’s biological father and her relationship with the co-defendant had been much more positive. He said they both have since completed a parenting course.
Mr Murphy said her epilepsy contributed to her inability to care for her children but has since taken every step afforded to her to deal with her issues. He said she expressed sincere remorse for what happened to her daughter and claimed it was a case of her not being able to cope. He asked Judge McCabe not to impose a custodial sentence claiming what occurred will not happen again.
Mr Diarmuid Connolly, counsel for the co-defendant said there were no issues of malice or spitefulness in his client’s behaviour and that what happened was a result of a lack of insight of what was required as a parent. He said he has now acquired that insight and was now considered to be low risk of reoffending.
In sentencing, Judge McCabe described the situation as ‘a very serious case of neglect’ and what happened to the child was difficult to quantify. While accepting that the female defendant had health difficulties, he stated he not as sympathetic to her partner and the level of culpability was higher on his part.
Judge McCabe said he was not prepared to finalise the case as he still expressed concerns and felt there was still a need for ongoing supervision. He said the headline sentence for the male defendant was five years imprisonment and four and a half for the female but stated he hoped to be in a position to deal with the case without a custodial sentence.
“This is a situation where a child needs parents and parents to take care of her. I have sympathy for you both but I have more sympathy for [the child]. She is the victim at the end of the day,” he said.
Judge McCabe adjourned sentencing for 12 months and asked for an updated probation report and added that maybe at that stage he will talk to the victim to see how she is progressing.