Concerns regarding child abuse in St John Ambulance described as “open secret”

May 21, 2021 | Sexual Abuse Law

Former members of the St John Ambulance paramedic organisation have claimed that concerns about alleged child sexual abuse in the 1990s by a past senior officer were an “open secret” in the organisation for years.

child abuse in St John Ambulance

The abuser, who is now in his 80s, was a member of the organisation from the 1950s till at least 2000 and held a senior position in the Old Kilmainham division. Claims of sexual abuse have now been made against him by five men.

Several former volunteers have claimed that people in the organisation at the time were aware of child protection concerns about the perpetrator. Keith Lambe, who joined St John Ambulance in 1993 around the age of 10 and remained a member until shortly before 2000, told the Irish Times that young members (“cadets”) were advised by adult members that they should “under no circumstances” go off alone with the man.

He spoke of hearing stories of the man “being in the back of an ambulance with a boy” and said that several cadets were known to be always in his “shadow.”

Mr. Lambe also spoke of how the man would turn up unexpectedly during first-aid duties to test cadets on their skills and demonstrate on him, or would himself display on them, instead of having them show on each other. According to Mr. Lambe, he would often insist that cadets check the femoral artery pulse near the groin.

George Jefferies, an HSE nurse who served as a St John Ambulance volunteer till 2015, told the Irish Times that the man had mainly been “untouchable” within the organisation on account of his senior rank until a complaint of abuse was made by one of the victims around 2000. He said that the organisation had had an old-fashioned “quasi-military” mindset, that attempts to modernise its culture had failed, and that there had been a lax attitude to a child protection policy.

The organisation has commissioned noted child law expert Geoffrey Shannon to undertake an independent review into its handling of the matter following pressure from Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman. Dr. Shannon is expected to conclude before the end of the year. A Garda investigation is also ongoing. In a letter to Dr. Shannon’s review, Éamonn Gaines, who was a volunteer from 1985 to 2011, wrote that child protection concerns about the man had been an “open secret” in the organisation in the 1990s, that there had been an “atmosphere of mistrust and persistent rumors of misconduct”, and that the organisation had been a “gerontocracy” that for years was resistant to cultural change.

Clodagh Magennis

Clodagh Magennis

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