St John Ambulance failed to investigate child abuse to protect reputation, report finds – The Irish Times

St. John Ambulance has failed to investigate concerns that children at the first-aid organization have been sexually abused for years, in part to try to protect their reputation, an independent inquiry has found.

Dr. Geoffrey Shannon SC’s report found that for years there had been “a significant level of organizational awareness” of serious threats to children, but the volunteer organization did nothing.

A former senior staffer at Dublin’s Old Kilmainham department is alleged to have sexually abused more than 15 boys in the organization between the late 1960s and late 1990s.

The report, seen by The Irish Times, found that the organisation’s structure and culture “facilitated” the potential care of children and “did not intervene or investigate despite evidence of potential risks”.

dr Shannon, a former government rapporteur on child protection, said this failure to take action was due to fears of being sued and to protect the organization’s reputation.

Despite a “well-established” awareness within the organization of “specific child safety threats” in the early 1990s, it failed to take action against the alleged abuser, which the report said was “a serious breach” of its ethical duty.

St. John Ambulance “could and should have investigated suspicions and complaints of serious misconduct and victimization,” it said.

The organization’s “quasi-military” command structure “facilitated potentially unwitting predatory activity” by creating a system in which senior officers could operate “with impunity,” it said.

The inquiry concluded that there had been “substantial suspicions” that the Old Kilmainham division posed “potential serious threats” to children in the organisation.

Informal warnings were “routinely” given to boys, sometimes by senior members, which Dr. Shannon reflects “a deep organizational awareness” of the risk the alleged perpetrator posed since at least the early 1990s.

According to the report, rumors of alleged abuse or risks to children had been circulating within the organization since about the mid-1980s.

The desire to protect St. John Ambulance’s reputation has resulted in “organizational dysfunction” in managing and responding to known risks to children, the report said.

dr Shannon said his previous policy of reporting child safeguarding concerns up the chain of command was “a grossly inappropriate” approach that failed to take into account that senior officials “could be implicated in the victimization”.

The report said St. John Ambulance appeared to “fear of litigation and damage to the organization’s reputation if an intervention were undertaken.”

Although allegations about the former senior figure were reported to the organization in the 1990s, the review found that it had been presented with “wholly inadequate documentary evidence” about the Old Kilmainham division.

The alleged abuser, now in his late 80s, was a member of the organization from the 1950s until around 2000 and left the organization after a survivor reported the alleged abuse in the late 1990s.

The report said that most of the complaints focused on alleged abuse by the former high-ranking figure, but testimony indicated that “in the pre-2001 period, more than one person may have been involved in potential grooming or abuse.”

A large number of current and former volunteers described the organization as previously “deeply resistant to change,” the report said.

A perceived “culture of secrecy” at the top of the organization has resulted in a “dysfunctional” system for holding members accountable and “hampered the effective functioning of child protection practices,” it said.

Claims by survivors that past abuse was covered up are “extremely difficult to verify,” Dr. shannon

The inquiry was “unable to find evidence” that early complaints of child sexual abuse were reported to statutory authorities such as the Gardaí and local health authorities.

Even now there has been a “pervasive denial of past failures” to protect children in some within the organization, the report said.

She slammed past attempts by the volunteer organization to “defend failures at a systemic level,” citing the culture of the time.

dr Shannon said he believed St. John Ambulance “operated an unsafe child safety culture” until 2011, after which reforms were implemented, but he said further improvements are still needed.

The report said that a culture that resists change poses a “persistent threat” to the organization’s ability to protect children today.

She expressed grave concern over a number of recent child protection cases and alleged abuse at the organization in recent years.

The inquiry was commissioned in early 2021 after the Irish Times reported that several men had been sexually abused by a former senior figure at St John’s Ambulance in the 1990s. St John Ambulance failed to investigate child abuse to protect reputation, report finds – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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