The High Court has approved settlements of between €40,000 and  €75,000 for 22 children who featured in an RTÉ documentary about the mistreatment of children at the Links crèche in Malahide in Dublin.

The settlements were made without admission of liability.

Some of the children's parents were in court as harrowing details of the treatment of children were outlined, including incidents of physical assaults and verbal abuse.

The court was told experts who examined the children and viewed the RTÉ footage had concluded the type of maltreatment of children was systemic in the crèche.

They said this was evident from the lack of reaction from many of the children who witnessed their peers being physically assaulted or shouted at.

Experts also said the children exhibited behaviour that suggested they "spent their days in high levels of apprehension, anticipation and anxiety".

The defendants had filed a full defence and denied that the incidents recorded in the RTÉ footage were representative of the level of care throughout the crèche.

The court was told all of the children were very young, aged three and under, and many were preverbal.

High levels of stress

Senior Counsel for the children Sasha Louise Gayer outlined how some were picked up roughly from their sleep mats and slammed back onto them.

Some were shouted at during mealtimes or circle time and one had their hand slapped and was cursed at for handling food. Most children had exhibited high levels of stress around nappy-changing time.

In each case, the court was told that parents had noticed behavioural difficulties in their children which stopped as soon as they were removed from the crèche. Many had developed sleep disturbances and suffered from anxiety.

Behavioural difficulties and anxiety

A psychologist who assessed almost all of the 22 children involved could link their behavioural difficulties and anxiety with how they were being cared for in the crèche.

Ms Gayer told the court there were three categories of children in the case. Those in category one had been assaulted or shouted at aggressively or mistreated in some way.

The incidents viewed in the footage came within the legal definition of assault, the court was told. Children in this category were mainly awarded €75,000 each.

Those in category two could be seen in the footage witnessing or sitting beside their peers while they were being assaulted or shouted at.

A third category of children included those who were present but not visible in the footage but claimed they were treated in an erratic and inconsistent environment.

Nervous shock and distress

The parents had separately sued the crèche for breach of contract, nervous shock and distress. The court was told they had also settled their cases but the amounts were not being made public.

The court was also told that all of the children had made a good recovery and had not suffered any long-lasting effects.

Approving each of the settlements, Mr Justice Kevin Cross said in order for these cases to succeed one had to establish a legal wrong and establish that a recognised injury was suffered.

He said it might have been difficult to do in some of the cases and he was happy to approve the settlements.

The judge said he hoped that by the time the children got to use the money, when they turned 18 they will be entirely unaware of why it was there and that they would use it wisely.  

'Startling when you see it'

One of the cases outlined to the court involved a child being roughly grabbed and slammed back onto a mat when he tried to crawl away at circle time.

The court was told he had mobility issues at the time and the crèche had been instructed by his parents to allow him to move freely around the room.

His physiotherapist was concerned at the time that his mobility was not improving and now it appears it was due to the manner in which he was being cared for.

Another little boy had been picked up from a sleeping mat and dropped. The footage was described by counsel as "startling when you see it".

Ms Gayer added: "He is roughly picked up and dropped back down. One expert said she was amazed the child wasn't seriously injured. His head was pushed face down and he was aggressively told to stop crying."

Another little girl was manhandled roughly in her chair at mealtime and was slapped on the hand for trying to pick up food. A staff member said to her: "I told you to take your f***ing hand out of it."

Another child had a toy snatched from her and was shouted at that it was not play time. Separate CCTV footage showed the same child being pulled roughly when she tried to leave the circle. 

Father speaks of relief at settlement

Meanwhile, the father of a child who received €75,000 after his son was mistreated the crèche in Malahide has spoken of his relief that a settlement has been reached.

Speaking outside the High Court, Ray Farrelly said the last three years had been "very tough" for the families and children involved in the case.

He said they had not taken legal action lightly and wanted to ensure that something like this could never happen again.

Mr Farrelly said that as the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided not to press charges against staff at the crèche, the families felt a civil action was their last opportunity to see justice done.

He said the parents felt relieved, "but certainly not happy", adding that all of the children involved in the case were now "doing ok".