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

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. 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 would have cadets demonstrate on him, or would himself demonstrate on them, instead of having them demonstrate on each other. According to Mr Lambe, he would often insist that cadets check the pulse of the femoral artery near the groin.

George Jefferies, a HSE nurse who served as a St John Ambulance volunteer till 2015, told the Irish Times that the man had been largely “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 antiquated “quasi-military” mindset, that attempts to modernise its culture had failed, and that there had been a lax attitude to child protection policy.

Noted child law expert Geoffrey Shannon has been commissioned by the organisation 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 rumours of misconduct”, and that the organisation had been a “gerontocracy” that for years was resistant to cultural change.

How can we help?

Coleman Legal is taking High Court actions on behalf of victims of sexual abuse cases. Coleman Legal specialise in the area of sexual abuse law, acting on behalf of the survivors. 

Coleman Legal fully understands and appreciates that any form of abuse is extremely distressing. We deal with each case on a personal, one-to-one basis with compassion, empathy and understanding. Cases of this nature are civil actions which seek monetary compensation for the pain and suffering inflicted upon the complainants as a result of the abuse.

Our dedicated team has extensive experience with claims relating to Sexual Abuse and Harassment. If you have experienced sexual abuse or have been abused in a similar circumstances, please contact Diane Treanor either by email or freephone us on 1800 844 104.

Diane Treanor

Senior Solicitor
Medical Negligence Team


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