The jury in the trial of a child abuse trial have been asked to focus on the credibility of the children’s evidence and it has been suggested that the case against the children’s aunt is “not rock solid”.
Anthony Sammon SC, defending the children’s aunt, told the jury at the Central Criminal Court that they should focus on evidence given during the trial of one of the foster mother’s diary entries.
Mr Sammon told the jury that his client was facing three charges of sexual assault against the girl and the youngest boy in the case and this foster mother had taken both children in as foster children at that time, leading up to their interviews with specialist gardaí about the allegations.
“The diary entry of the foster mother is vital in terms of your assessment of the credibility of the children’s evidence,” counsel said before he read out a number of entries.
They read: “The children can have the same convincing way of telling or making up stories. My concern is that they could make up things about us as a family or about family members.”
The diary also referred to the girl’s behaviour: “She has many different personalities, different personalities for each of us. She is an actress.”
Mr Sammon also referred the jury to evidence of an incident during which the girl asked if she could jump on her foster father’s lap and when he refused, she threatened to tell his wife that he had hit her.
“This demonstrates a capacity to be malicious and to lie,” Ms Sammon said.
He also reminded the jury of a point in the youngest boy’s interview with gardaí during which he said a friend’s mother had touched that child’s privates. He said he was telling the garda this because his foster mother told him to write this incident down. When the foster mother is asked about this later, she denied that she advised the boy to write it down.
“This raises a colossal credibility for that child at that time. You have to be extremely sceptical of evidence from a child who is doing this,” Mr Sammon advised.
He also referred the jury to the fact that both these children “resiled from allegations” they made against their grandmother and their uncle’s partner, both of which have had the charges against them withdrawn during the course of the trial.
Referring to his client telling gardaí at one point during the interviews that the children were telling the truth, Mr Sammon said his client had “tied herself in knots”. She had a consultation with her legal advisors and returned and confirmed that she did none of the things alleged against her, counsel said.
“The onus is on the prosecution to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. That phrase is used with such frequency now it has become somewhat devalued. My preference is to ask the jury to use the term ‘rock solid’,” counsel said.
“Sexual assault of a child is a very grave matter. Before you could arrive at a situation where you would be prepared to convict her you would have to be rock solid about the strength of the case against her and in my opinion you cannot do that in this case,” Mr Sammon said.
The 35-year-old woman has pleaded not guilty to three counts, including sexually assaulting the girl and sexually assaulting one of the boys at locations in Munster on unknown dates between August 18th, 2014 and April 28th, 2016.
In his closing speech to the jury, Bernard Condon SC, prosecuting, said the children’s aunt was “not a central player by any means”. “But that does not absolve her from her responsibilities,” he said.
The court heard that the aunt told gardaí that what the children were saying was truthful before later withdrawing that.
“She was leaning towards making admissions,” Mr Condon said. “Some sort of admission about the children being truthful and then she came back (after a consultation with her solicitor) and said ‘I did nothing’.
He said that while the two children she is accused of abusing resiled “a little bit” from their allegations in relation to their grandmother and their uncle’s partner, “they did not make any such concession in relation to [her].”
Earlier, Andrew Sexton SC, defending the children’s aunt’s husband, told the jury that his client “vehemently denied” these “devastating allegations” and “in very simple terms he said he had never abused these children”.
Counsel said his client “does not make himself out to perfect” and acknowledged that his conduct in relation to his mother-in-law, the children’s grandmother “was questionable”.
He said that his client’s wife admitted to gardaí that she “ticked” off her husband for this behaviour but when she was asked if he ever interfered with the children as alleged; “her answer was crystal clear, ‘never’”.
The 49-year-old husband has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts including rape, anal rape, oral rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation at locations in Munster on unknown dates between August 18th, 2014 and April 28th, 2016. Two additional counts were withdrawn during the trial.
The prosecution case is that the man is “right in the middle” of this case and right in the middle of the family’s affairs, Mr Condon told the jury in his closing speech.
“You can see this in his involvement with the family,” Mr Condon said, adding the man was present at all of the family case conferences.
He was a “recurring feature in this case in all of the children’s allegations” and the children gave “strong, compelling, consistent evidence” against him, he said.
The man didn’t do anything about what was going on in the house “because he was right in the middle of doing it”, the prosecution said. “He was at the heart of this,” Mr Condon said.
The five family members, who can’t be named for legal reasons, are accused of abusing three children between 2014 and 2016. The accused are the parents, aunt and uncles of the children.
They range in ages from 27 to 56 and live in various locations in Munster. The parents are also accused of neglecting five of their children. All of the accused have denied the charges against them.
Reporting restrictions are in place to protect the welfare and identities of the children.
The trial continues on Friday before Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury.