A YOUNG mother was sentenced to six months in jail today for child cruelty as the district judge described it as the most harrowing case he had dealt with in the past ten years on the bench.
Three children were locked in bedrooms without lighting as their mother went out drinking, leaving them without anyone to mind them.
The eldest child – aged 7 – frequently begged her mother not to lock her into her bedroom with a latch that was screwed into the frame on the outside.
“It is the most harrowing case I have dealt with in the last ten years,” Judge Olann Kelleher said today.
The 30-year-old mother of three was sentenced to three concurrent six-month jail terms for cruelty to each of her children on a date in August last year.
A member of An Garda Síochána arrived at the house in the early hours of the morning hearing them inside crying for help and unable to get to the front door.
He had to force his way in to assist them.
Eugene Murphy, solicitor, said the mother who has a previous conviction for cruelty to her children in similar circumstances had been addicted to prescription tablets and alcohol but had since undertaken life-changing rehabilitation and loved her children deeply.
While this is her second conviction for child cruelty, the judge noted that back in 2014 she was in a traffic accident after she had drink taken and her two children at the time were unsupervised.
There was another accident in June 2017 when it was discovered her children were unsupervised.
The case before Cork District Court today related to a similar scenario on August 5, 2018.
The judge recalled the evidence: “The guard who attended could not gain entry. He heard the three children crying because they could not get out of the room. He went upstairs. The children were in dark bedrooms locked from the outside. He found a potty for a child overflowing with urine.
“The older child got upset. She got so upset she thought she was going to be kidnapped. She has now taken on a parental role (with her two younger siblings) and she is only seven or eight herself. She should not have to do this.
“She was able to roleplay (for Tusla social workers) the guard coming up the stairs. Obviously it is still in her mind. She says her mother locks the doors most nights even when she begs her not to do so.”
The defendant who stood in the centre of Courtroom 1 for her sentencing in the Washington Street courthouse wept and wiped her eyes as the judge made these comment.
Judge Kelleher said the defendant had pleaded guilty and has made efforts to deal with her addiction even though she was not always successful – she had to leave one centre because of an altercation with a staff member.
“The most important part is the fact of the breach of trust. The children suffered very badly. They had no choice in this matter. They just had to take it. To put locks on the doors outside was pre-meditated by the mother. The court must do their best to protect the vulnerable – young people and older people.”
Eugene Murphy, solicitor, said the defendant recognised that it was extremely serious and that cases like this were rare.
“This lady – because of her difficult base on poly-substance abuse, primarily prescription drugs and alcohol – ordinary basic human behaviour - behaviour towards one’s children - was entirely compromised and overlooked in an inexcusable manner. Her judgement was utterly irrational and clouded,” he said.
The solicitor said it was a cross she carried, and knew it every day, not least with media coverage of her plea of guilty this week – without identification of the parties to protect the children, as required under the Children’s Act.
Mr Murphy said she was attending parenting courses, addiction treatment, probation service among a range of support services in putting her life back on track.
“This lady is damaged by what happened. She loves her children deeply… and the children are extremely close to her and get on extremely well with her,” he said.
The solicitor concluded by referring to the social and familial consequences of any custodial order.