A 56-year-old care worker described in court today (Thursday) his sitting on an intellectually disabled woman in her chair at the HSE-run Áras Attracta facility in Swinford as 'playful interaction'.
Video evidence showing Patrick McLoughlin, Mayfield, Claremorris, sitting briefly on the lap of a patient, identified only as 'Miss A', was shown to a district court hearing in Castlebar.
McLoughlin, a nurse specialising in mental handicap since 1985, is one of six Áras Attracta staff charged with assaulting patients on dates in November 2014.
Along with five others, who face a single charge of assault at Bungalow 3 in the Áras complex, he has pleaded not guilty.
One care worker has pleaded guilty to five assault charges. She will be sentenced at a later date.
The video evidence on which the State case against all the defendants is based was filmed covertly by RTÉ's Special Investigations Unit.
McLoughlin's alleged victim was described in court before Judge Mary Devins as a long- term patient at the centre with a medical history for 'challenging behaviour'.
Film footage showed the accused sitting on Miss A's lap before she got up and attempted to strike him before another member of staff intervened, telling the patient to tell McLoughlin she was sorry and to 'give Pat a hug'.
Martin Maguire, a clinical nurse specialist attached to Áras Attracta, was asked by Mr. Patrick Reynolds, counsel for the State, if he regarded sitting on Miss A's lap as appropriate behaviour management.
Mr. McGuire replied: “That is unacceptable."
Earlier the witness described the defendant as a competent nurse working in a challenging environment.
"I would regard him as a good staff member," Mr. Maguire stated.
In evidence, the accused said Miss A, whom he had known for 10 years and got on quite well with, had struck him twice on the back prior to the incident. This had not been captured on camera.
While agreeing that his action had not been acceptable, McLoughlin, who was born in England to Co. Mayo parents, said what had happened was on the spur of the moment, 'a bit of playfulness'.
Christina Delaney (35), Seefin, Lissatava, Hollymount, is also charged with a single count of assault against Miss A.
Footage was shown to the court of the accused, a health care assistant, forcing Miss A back into her chair before sitting on her and preventing her getting up.
Mr. Maguire, the clinical nurse specialist, described the action of Delaney as 'unacceptable'.
Delaney told the court she had been trying to keep Miss A – who previously had to be treated in hospital for an eye injury – in a safe zone by keeping her in her chair and asked for her consent before sitting in the chair.
Under cross-examination, the defendant agreed that what she had done was an unacceptable form of behaviour management but she was trying to keep Miss A in a safe zone at the time.
Judge Devins said she would consider the evidence and will give a date for her decision in both matters tomorrow (Friday).
Miss A was also allegedly assaulted by Anna Ywunong Botsimbo (34), Lowpark, Charlestown.
It is alleged Botsimbo assaulted Miss A by tugging her hoodie and pulling her into her chair.
Mr. Peter Flynn, solicitor, said the defendant had put Miss A sitting down but not in an aggressive fashion.
Mr. Flynn applied to the judge for a direction, stating there was no evidence of an assault having taken place. He added that a senior garda, in an interview, had not even put it to the accused that an assault had taken place.
Judge Devins is to rule tomorrow (Friday) on the application for a direction.
Cases against Kathleen King, Knockshanbally, Straide, Foxford, and Joan Walsh, Carrowilkeen, Curry, Co. Sligo, are due to be heard tomorrow.
At the start of court proceedings today, Judge Devins ruled that the cases against the five defendants should proceed.
Defence lawyers had sought a dismissal of all the charges, stating it would be 'unsafe' to proceed because of differences due to deletions between the master hard drive held by RTÉ and the drive copied by gardaí for prosecution purposes.
The judge ruled there was a prima facie case to answer and said it was in the public interest for the cases to proceed.
She ruled that prosecution evidence in the cases be restricted to events alleged to have occurred in Áras Attracta on two dates, November 14 and 5, 2014.
Mr. Patrick Reynolds, counsel, said the State was happy with the integrity of the video evidence they were relying on.
He outlined that in the time since the court last sat on Tuesday, the RTÉ hard drive and the drive copied by the broadcaster for gardaí had been brought to Dublin for expert examination by garda IT experts.
Mr. Eoin Garavan, counsel (representing Kathleen King), objected to the fact that 'a State exhibit' had been taken away and examined without defence legal representatives being informed or involved.
Judge Devins said she was 'really taken aback' by the State's course of action, stating she found it 'very surprising and very unsettling'.
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