Sisters of Charity sued over alleged rapes by groundsman

Friday 31 January 2014 18.04
The court has reserved judgment
The court has reserved judgment

The Sisters of Charity have begun High Court proceedings aimed at stopping an action for damages brought against them by a woman who alleges she was raped and sexually assaulted over years when she was a schoolgirl by a groundsman employed in a Magdalene Laundry.

Now aged in her 40s, the woman has sued the Sisters of Charity, alleging they are vicariously liable for severe personal injuries and emotional suffering arising from the assaults by the groundsman.

These are alleged to have occurred in a hut and shed in the grounds of the laundry between the years 1977 and 1980.

The man, the court heard, is believed to be dead.

The woman claims she was so traumatised by the assaults that on one occasion, in an effort to stop the groundsman accosting her on her way to and from school, she hammered her knee with a paperweight to such an extent she was hospitalised with a fractured knee and thus avoided going to school.

The court was told her life has been severely affected by her experience.

It heard she changed from being a happy normal child who liked school to one who became self-destructive, hated school, herself and people, left school early and developed alcohol, medication and relationship problems.

She claims the assaults began when she was 12 and continued until she left school at 15.

She felt unable to tell anyone and experienced huge shame, feeling dirty and ugly and was constantly washing herself.

Her father died when she was 14 and she believed his death was a punishment of herself, she said.

She has a severe psychological disorder and symptoms of post traumatic stress, it is also claimed.

In a pre-trial application for an order halting the case, the Sisters of Charity say they are prejudiced in defending it on grounds including delay and having no records of the groundsman, including any written record of his being an employee of the order.

In an affidavit on behalf of the order, it was stated the woman's claims are subject to a garda investigation which has not yet concluded as it has not proven possible to establish if the groundsman had died. His last address was unknown.

Rossa Fanning BL, for the sisters, said his side was not, for the purposes of this application, disputing the veracity of the woman's claims.

The point was the order did not know if the claims were well founded and, at this remove, it was just not in a position to defend the case, counsel said.

The issue as to whether the order has a liability for the alleged actions of the groundsman was very complex and there were no documents to assist, he added.

Jack Fitzgerald SC, for the woman, urged Mr Justice Max Barrett to let the case proceed. 

Not to do so would mean the end-of-the-line for his client and the affidavit on behalf of the order contained much inadmissible hearsay evidence from other nuns who had not sworn affidavits, counsel said.

After submissions concluded Mr Justice Barrett reserved judgment.