RTÉ INVESTIGATES REPORTS DAMNING ABUSE REPORT FINDINGS INTO ST JOHN AMBULANCE DESPITE TUSLA ASSURANCES TO GOVERNMENT OF NO CONCERNS
– Report details modern day allegations with current Garda vetting system incomplete & child protection policy not finalised
– Abuse survivors tell their stories in a special report on RTÉ Prime Time tonight
A review into the handling of complaints of sexual abuse at the voluntary first aid organisation St John Ambulance has found its Garda vetting system is incomplete creating the potential for unvetted individuals to gain access to children, RTÉ Investigates has learned.
A copy of the 230+ page report, obtained by RTÉ Investigates, includes testimony of predatory and abusive behaviour in St John Ambulance stretching from the early 1970s. The report states that until the mid-2010s child protection measures at the organisation were inadequate and dysfunctional.
The review being published today, was commissioned in March 2021 after several men came forward alleging they had been sexually abused as young teenagers by a senior officer at St John Ambulance during the 1990s.
The independent investigation, which was carried out by the former child protection rapporteur and recently-nominated Circuit Court judge Dr Geoffrey Shannon, finds St John Ambulance failed to properly intervene or investigate suspicions or knowledge of child protection risks. This was despite those risks being highly visible and there being a significant degree of awareness within the organisation of serious threats to children.
The report highlights a failure by the organisation to initiate any formal investigation following a full disclosure of serious grooming and child sexual abuse in the late 1990s.
It finds St John Ambulance did not refer initial complaints to statutory agencies like the Gardaí. That failure, the report states, was in part based on a fear of litigation but, the main reason for not reporting the abuse was a desire to protect the reputation of the organisation rather than its ordinary members.
That lack of meaningful action is described in Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s review as a significant source of re-victimisation and traumatisation for victim-survivors with several stating they believed their victimisation tracked along socio-economic class.
The review concludes St John Ambulance still does not have a finalised child protection policy. It also contains allegations of recent incidents which were reported to people in positions of authority within the organisation.
The report also found evidence of serious incidents being reported in recent years with major shortcomings in how St John Ambulance has responded – among them several disturbing modern-day allegations of the grooming and sexual abuse of young children.
Despite these findings a 2019 letter, seen by RTÉ Investigates, from the then Chief Executive of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla assured Government officials, including the then Minister for Children that there were no current concerns with respect to St John Ambulance and it was deemed to have a compliant safeguarding statement. The assurances, provided over three years ago, come in stark contrast to the litany of current issues found in the report being published today.
Most historic complaints referred to in the report relate to one former volunteer, understood by RTÉ Investigates to be the senior officer at the former Old Kilmainham division. However the report states that testimony was received which suggested there may have been more than one perpetrator engaged in potential grooming and/or abuse of children in St John Ambulance. A special report by RTÉ Investigates to be broadcast on Prime Time tonight will detail instances of abuse by the senior figure stretching back to the early 1970s with evidence the abuse continued without intervention for up to 30 years.
Widely considered to be Ireland’s oldest first aid organisation, St John Ambulance, now a registered charity, has been central to providing medical assistance and mentoring throughout the country for over a century.
In a statement to RTÉ Investigates, the Board of St John Ambulance said that while it understands the wait for the report has not been easy for abuse survivors, the organisation had to complete a due diligence process. “This process, involving legal and data protection dimensions, has now concluded, enabling publication of the complete unredacted report.” St John Ambulance also confirmed it will be engaging with the Department of Children as it implements the recommendations made by Dr Shannon.
Tusla told RTÉ Investigates: “Tusla has had ongoing contact with St John Ambulance since 2019 to seek assurances that current child safeguarding practices are in line with Children First. Currently we are satisfied with the level of engagement on these issues. Once published, Tusla will review the report and follow up accordingly with St John Ambulance if any current or retrospective child protection issues are identified in the report.”
Watch RTÉ Investigates: St John Ambulance – Sidelined report tonight on Prime Time, RTÉ One at 9.35pm and on the RTÉ Player.
Read more at: St John Ambulance – unvetted adults can still access children (rte.ie)