‘I know I am not the only one he has raped’ – woman left for dead after horror attack at 8 years old breaks silence

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Simone

aged 8

By Patricia Devlin

A WOMAN left for dead in a sickening sex attack when she was just eight years-old has broken her silence for the first time.
Brave Simone Cunnane from Newry, Co Down, has waived her right to anonymity to tell the Sunday World: “I know the identity of the stranger who raped me.”
The mum-of-two, 31, says she has now made a formal complaint to police, who are investigating her claims 24 years on.
The revelation comes after news a man in his 40s – also from the Newry area – was recently arrested in relation to the 1994 attempted murder.
In a child sex attack that shocked the nation, Simone was playing with a pal close to her Loanda Crescent home when a man lured her into nearby woodland.
He tied a rope around her neck, subjected her to a prolonged sex assault and then hung her from a tree.
The monster then hit her over the head with a brick and raped her as she lay unconscious.
Believing she was dead her attacker fled, leaving the bloodied youngster tied up and alone.
Miraculously she survived and broke free before raising the alarm.
Today she tells her story for the first time and reveals how she is helping other women who believe the same predator attacked them.
“This man was a stranger up until not that long ago,” she told the Sunday World in an exclusive interview.
“For legal reasons I can’t go into further detail about how I came to discover his identity, but I can say that I know he not only has attacked me but others as well.
“And that is why I am speaking out, because I want to help these women and tell them they aren’t alone, and there is help.”
Recounting the day she was attacked on June 10,1994, Simone told how she had been on her way to play football with a friend.
“It was a Friday around 4pm and we left my house to get sweets and made our way to the (Barcroft Community) centre.
“It wasn’t opened, we were about 10 minutes early so we sat outside close to some trees and this is when the man approached us.
“He was smiling and told us he’d lost his wee brother and that sometimes he played in the woods and would we help find him.
“I told him, ‘I’m not allowed in the woods’. But my other friend said sometimes he would play there, so stupidly he went with him.
“I went too and once he got us into the woods he told my friend to go in one direction and then told me that I had to follow him.
“He led me to an overgrowth area and we were sitting on a small muck pile when he reached into his pocket and took out this rope.
“It was tied like a noose and as he took it out he said, ‘my brother give me this before he left’.
“The next thing he had it around my neck and was tightening it. I was choking and I tried to pull it away with my fingers.
“Then I started to shout and he put his hand over my mouth, told me to shut up and that he had a knife.
“I begged him, ‘please, don’t do this’.
In the woodland, set within Daisy Hill Nursery, Simone was subjected to a relentless series of sex assaults.
“He did things to me and he made me do things to him,” she said.
“He then told me to stand up, he had the rope on me still, and he took me towards a tree where there was a bit of an embankment.
“With the rope that was on my neck, he tied the other part of it to a branch and pushed me off the embankment and I was swinging from the tree.
“As I was grabbing at my neck to try to get the rope off I could see him standing in front of me, smiling.
“At some point I must have went unconscious and the tree branch snapped. This is when he hit me on the back of the head with the brick.
“I have a scar on the back of my head still from it. I was told after that he raped me when I was lying there, unconscious.”
Simone woke up sometime later, covered in blood and mud.
“He must have pulled me back up and tied me to the tree,” she said.
“There was muck in my mouth, all over my face, and I was being sick, vomiting.
“There was blood all over me and I remember looking down and seeing all these knots – he had tied loads all over the rope. I was in a panic, I didn’t know if he was still there, or if he was still watching me.
“I was able to get my foot out and eventually I got free.”
The eight-year-old made her way through the woods and into the garden of a family home where a man was watering his flowers.
He spotted the distressed child and went to her rescue.
“I must have collapsed and when I woke he was lifting me up and I remember saying to him, ‘please don’t hurt me, too’.
“His wife wrapped a sheet around me and I can remember hearing them talking about taking me to hospital.”
It was around 7pm when a traumatised Simone was taken to Daisy Hill Hospital where doctors and nurses sprung into action and called police.
Her devastated parents, who were out looking for their daughter at the time, raced to her bedside.
Simone was examined and interviewed by police who took away her clothes and a number of items from the scene of the attack.
But despite a high profile investigation and numerous appeals over 23 years, no-one has been convicted of the despicable attack.
In February 2013, police re-opened the attempted murder investigation.
Detectives released two computer generated images of the suspect.
Last week a PSNI spokesman confirmed that a man on January 30, a man was arrested as part of the police investigation. He was released on police bail pending further enquiries.
Simone, who last week bravely returned to the scene of the attack, said: “I always did believe the person responsible was from the area.
He knew where he was going, it was pre-meditated as he had everything with him.
“What is disturbing is that since that day the man who attacked me has been walking the streets. I know I am not the only one he has attacked.”
Simone, who received support from sexual abuse counselling charity Nexus, has been contacted by numerous women who say they believe the evil predator also attacked them.
She is now now working with Women’s Aid and Nexus to run a support group for those women.
“I went to a lady called Fiona in the Newry Women’s Aid office and explained to her my story.
“I told her how there other girls had come forward to me believing they have been attacked by the same man.
“So we came up with the idea that these women, and anyone else who might come forward, can go to Women’s Aid and get support, and counselling with Nexus.
“Some of these people are ready to go to police and some are not. But the support is there for them,”
Anyone who wishes to make contact with the group can phone Fiona at Newry Women’s Aid on 028 3025 0765.
ENDS

Irish nuns sold ‘dead’ babies to America

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By Patricia Devlin

A SHELVED report which revealed concerns nuns falsified the deaths of babies before selling them to parents in the USA was seen by two Ministers, a former HSE chief has claimed.

Former Children and Family Services assistant director Phil Garland says the explosive 2012 report was passed to then Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and Health Minister James Reilly.

But despite recommendations for a State inquiry, no action appears to have been taken.

Breaking his silence for the first time on the reports he helped compile, Mr Garland told The Star: “The HSE and the government weren’t interested. And they still aren’t.”

The sensational “draft reports” surround both Bessboro institution in Co Cork and Sacred Heart Mother and Baby facility in Tuam, Co Galway and reveal how:

  • the church was defrauding the government, women and adoptive parents of cash
  • doctors, social workers and workers still employed in HSE helped ‘traffick’ children
  • bishops sent written requests for babies to be made available for adoption
  • Over 1000 records were unearthed by civil servants including letters and photographs.
  • chiefs believe actions uncovered ‘could be criminal’

Mr Garland told The Star: “I know this information went to the very top of the HSE and to the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald. The departments and the Minister just weren’t interested.We wanted this to go much much further. It didn’t and I don’t know why.”The allegations transpired after the discovery of a “large archive” of files by a HSE worker in Co Galway in 2012.Health chiefs were immediately notified how the records, which included photographs and documentation, pointed to posisbly criminal activity operating in institutions during the 40s, 50s and 60s.The evidence uncovered was so strong it led HSE Chief Dr Declan McKeown to warn: “This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other.”

Two “draft” reports on “deep concerns” were then written by the then Consultant Public Health Physician.

They included recommendations for a State inquiry to then Health Minister James Reilly. 

The documents include an email sent on October 12, 2012, by Dr McKeown to Mr Garland and another HSE colleague.

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Bessboro/Bessborough institution, Co Cork.

He said a social worker trying to “piece together” the information, which included photographs and documents, had collated a database of “up to 1,000 names”.

He added he would draft an “early warning” letter for the attention of Philip Crowley, National Director Quality Improvement, “suggesting that this goes all the way up to the Minister.”

The email goes on: “This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the church and state, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother.

“A concern is that, if there is evidence of trafficking babies, that it must have been facilitated by doctors, social workers, etc. And a number of these health professionals may still be working in the system.

“It is important to send this up to the Minister as soon as possible: With a view to an inter-departmental committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and state inquiry. “

On the same day a more detailed account of the concerns raised in the records was again sent via email to Dr Davida De La Harpe and Mr Garland.

In this paper, labelled “strictly confidential”, Dr McKeown said that there were serious concerns surrounding the infant mortality rate in the Co Cork home.

Death records over a 19 year period showed that a quarter of all babies born at the institution were recorded as having died within the first 12 months of their life.

However Dr Mc Keown said evidence was pointing to the belief that until the introduction of adoption legislation in 1950, nuns in Bessboro were falsely recording baby deaths.

It has been mooted that this combination of evidence may point to babies being identified for adoption, principally to the USA, but has been recorded as infant deaths in Ireland and notified to the parents accordingly.

“This would have been possible before the introduction of adoption legislation. However it will take a more detailed study of practices and the accounting in Bessboro before this theory proven or disproven.”

The documents also touched upon evidence of similar – and more serious – practices taking place in Tuam.

“In common with Bessboro there is some evidence of coercion in that women were forced to stay in the home with their babies until well past the point that they were fit for discharge.

“During this time parents were charged with the upkeep of their children but it appears now that adoptive parents were also charged for the upkeep of the same baby.

“Babies were offered for adoption from the Bessboro and Tuam homes at up to three years of age. The trauma involved in this is revealed in an archive of photographs of children who were sent for adoption to the USA.”

It concluded: “In both of these cases, there are issues of concern in relation to historic patient safety, medical care, accounting irregularities and possible interference with birth and death certification which requires further investigation. 

“Children, if not the mothers who passed trough these systems are likely to still be alive and at the very least any knowledge of their histories should be fully investigated and made available to them if they so choose.”

Mr Garland, who says he believes the archive is still in the property of the HSE, left his Assistant Director position shortly after the reports were made in 2012. But he says he remains troubled that no action seems to have been taken four years on.

His claims are the latest cover-up scandal to rock the HSE in a matter of weeks.

Just last week the health authority was force to apologise after an independent report found it failed to properly investigate abuse claims surrounding a Waterford foster home over a prolonged period despite two internal reviews.

RESPONSE

I contacted a number of government departments over these allegations. Here is what each had to say in full.

HSE (Health Services Ireland)

 “All information gathered HSE-Health Intelligence Unit during the course of their research has been passed to TUSLA.

 “Any records relating to children and families in Ireland, both past and present are now owned by Tusla. The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) was established in 2014 under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 by Order of Government under the stewardship of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The Commission’s work is on-going and any individuals who were resident in or who worked in any of the Mother and Baby Homes or County Homes which are the subject of the investigation should contact the commission with any relevant information.”

The Department of Health

“The  HSE provided a draft report which included the material in regard to Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and which indicated that conclusions must remain conjecture until a more forensic examination could be undertaken.     This  draft was provided to the Committee Secretariat and to the two Departmental  representatives on the Committee.  As these matters were outside the remit of the McAleese Committee,  the HSE subsequently advised that these wider issues would be examined separately  by the HSE.   There is no record of the draft report being received by the Ministers.

“In 2014, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs established an Inter Departmental Group  in response to revelations and public controversy regarding conditions in Mother and Baby Homes. This controversy originally centred on the high rate of deaths at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway.   The Group was to map the important dimensions of the issue, and to assist in developing appropriate terms of reference for a Commission of Investigation.   The Commission of Investigation into  Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters was then established in February 2015 to provide a full account of the experiences of women and children who lived in mother and baby homes over the period 1922 -1998.”

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

“The information at issue was examined by the Health Service Executive (HSE)
as part of its response to the Committee to establish the facts of State
involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. In the course of this work the HSE
provided a draft report to the Committee secretariat and to the Department
of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.  This draft
report included a separate appendix based on records from the former
Bessborough mother and baby home. The author of this draft report
acknowledged that its conclusions remained a matter of conjecture until
such time as a more forensic examination of the home’s records could be
undertaken by the HSE.

“The draft HSE report was not brought to Minister’s attention at that time.

“As these matters were outside the direct remit of the McAleese Committee,
the HSE subsequently advised that these wider concerns would be examined
separately by the HSE. The Department advised the HSE that any findings of
concern from this separate process should be appropriately communicated by
the HSE.  This Department is not aware of any subsequent reports supplied
by the HSE in this regard.

“The Department of Children and Youth Affairs became actively involved in
responding to the concerns relating to Mother and Baby Homes following the
publication of information on the former Bon Secours Home in Tuam around
mid-2014. The Inter Departmental Group Report on Mother and Baby Homes,
published in July 2014, cites a number of reports from relevant authorities
which expressed concerns with undesirably high death rates during and
following the times these institutions were in operation. It also
references academic literature which clearly indicates that conditions in
these institutions were the subject of attention, report and debate since
the early years of the State. Therefore, it would not be accurate to
suggest that concerns in relation to conditions in mother and baby homes
were unknown or ignored prior to 2012.