herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Family of 'blond Roma boy' receives damages of €60k

'The child was removed from his home in Athlone in October 2013 after members of the public reported concerns he might not be the child of his parents. He was returned to their care the following day'
'The child was removed from his home in Athlone in October 2013 after members of the public reported concerns he might not be the child of his parents. He was returned to their care the following day'

A Roma family whose two-year-old blond son was removed overnight from them by gardai have secured €60,000 damages under a settlement of their legal action.

The family's barrister claimed in the High Court it was a case of "hysterical" and "overzealous" policing.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott said notwithstanding the very difficult circumstances and undoubted trauma for the child, a medical report suggested he had not suffered personal injuries as a result of his experience at the time.

An opinion from the boy's senior counsel concerning his claim had noted there could be difficulties proving gardai have a duty of care in relation to "overzealous" policing in childcare matters, the judge said.

The opinion also expressed the view it was likely to be argued any such duty could have a "chilling effect".

In all the circumstances, the judge said he would approve as appropriate the €60,000 settlement offer, plus costs, for the now four-year-old boy, who was in court with his parents.

On the application of Peter Bland SC, for the boy, he also directed a small payment out now to meet the costs of a computer for the child who, the judge was told, likes playing computer games.

Care

The child was removed from his home in Athlone in October 2013 after members of the public reported concerns he might not be the child of his parents. He was returned to their care the following day.

The parents later sued the Minister for Justice, the Garda Commissioner and State claiming damages on grounds including alleged negligence, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional harm.

Mr Bland said the boy and another child, a seven-year-old blond Roma girl, were both removed by gardai from their homes in Athlone and Tallaght respectively following "brief hysteria" across Europe when a blonde child, 'Maria', was found in a Roma camp in Greece

The removal of this boy under the Child Care Act 1991 was unwarranted and the Children's Ombudsman, in an "excellent" report, later concluded it amounted to "ethnic profiling", Mr Bland said.

The family also had reason to believe gardai leaked matters to the media. The Government had apologised over the matter, the court heard.

Mr Bland said it was an unusual case involving an "extremely vexed" cause of action which involved imposing a duty of care on gardai in relation to actions under the Child Care Act.

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