'Mice were jumping out of the floor': Cork women prosecuted for wilful neglect of children

By Liam Heylin

A woman was prosecuted for wilful neglect of her two children by hoarding so much rubbish in her council house that it resulted in a massive infestation of mice.

Garda Grainne McCarthy who investigated the case said the gardaí were asked by local authority officials to go to the house in Cork city because of complaints from neighbours about the build-up of rubbish. There was no response when she knocked at the door. A council worker got in through an open window.

Cork District Court heard further distressing evidence from a number of witnesses. Judge Con O’Leary made an order preventing identification of the family.

Garda McCarthy said: “When we entered, the overwhelming smell hit me. There were swarms of flies inside the door. I could not see the ground with the amount of rubbish. (The defendant) was present with her two children (both in their early teens).

“As I continued walking into the house the mice were jumping out of the floor. There was a scattering of mice everywhere.

"In the toilet there were buckets with urine in there. Everything was completely covered with rubbish and mice.”

Garda McCarthy invoked the Child Care Act to remove the children from the house for their own health and safety. As well as a distressing physical description of one of the children, Garda McCarthy said they were very distressed.

“I returned to the house to take photos. I could not stay for too long. I could not go upstairs for my own safety, the infestation with mice was so bad. I actually stood on a mouse,” she said.

Sergeant John Dwyer who was also present said it was the worst conditions of human habitation he had witnessed in 20 years with An Garda Síochána.

After the evidence and examining the photographs Judge Con O’Leary said he had presided over cases where social workers removed children in similar circumstances before but that yesterday’s case which dated from an inspection on July 12, 2016 was the worst of its kind he had ever encountered in his time on the bench.

The defendant pleaded not guilty to charges of wilful neglect of each child. She told her barrister, Nikki O’Sullivan, the rubbish had built up over the previous few weeks and that they were not living there at that time but just returned to collect something that day before the guards arrived. Judge O’Leary said what he had seen had clearly built up over at least six to 12 months.

Inspector Ronan Kennelly described the scene in the house as one of carnage and said the woman should have taken steps to ensure the health and safety of the children. The defendant said she had spent €300 to €400 on traps, vermin poison and air fresheners.

The principal of the school could not believe that the two children had such home circumstances when the matter was raised in an extensive investigation by the TUSLA which required a number of social workers.

The defendant said the social workers had closed their file and that her children were living with her in another house which was clean and tidy and they were doing very well in school and in a wide range of extra-curricular activities.

Judge O’Leary convicted her on two counts of wilful neglect. She had no previous convictions of any kind. The charge carries a €1500 maximum fine and/or a maximum of 12 months in prison.

One expert now working with the defendant in a supportive capacity testified, “She was overwhelmed, socially isolated and had very little support. She suffered from something called hoarding. She was storing stuff in the house that had no monetary value. She accepts she has a problem with hoarding. It is a cause of extreme anxiety when she has to part with anything, even something of no value. It is associated with depression and an obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Judge O’Leary said he did not want to finalise it immediately in case the defendant would resort to old patterns of behaviour in the new council accommodation. The judge required reports from her doctor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and the probation service before sentencing on November 22.

The woman asked during the case if her children could be heard by the judge or even if he could get ‘a glimpse’ of them to show how well they were doing. Judge O’Leary said he did not need to see them as the issue was how they were on the date in July 2016.

This story was amended on October 18, 2018

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