St John Ambulance review calls for overhaul of child protection structures and warns vetting system still incomplete

A report into historic child sexual abuse at St John Ambulance has found that the organisation still has an incomplete garda vetting system.

review into the handling of the abuse within the paramedic organisation was commissioned in March 2021 and its findings has been released to abuse survivors this morning.

The report, seen by RTÉ investigates, has highlighted the potential for unvetted individuals to gain access to children to due its garda clearance policy.

The independent report by child protection expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon was submitted to its board in late November.

Dr Shannon, a former special rapporteur on child protection, carried out the principal work with a small team. He then submitted it to the SJA board.

The review was commissioned by the organisation after several men came forward alleging they were sexually abused.

The child protection agency Tusla deemed that a number of the allegations were “founded”.

The report said there was awareness in St John Ambulance of threats to children.

It found that the organisation failed to act on or thoroughly investigate suspicions or knowledge of child protection risks.

It highlighted inaction following a disclosures of grooming and child sexual in the 1990s and deemed this perceived inaction as a serious failure of its ethical duty of care to child cadets and other members.

According to the report, St John Ambulance did not inform gardaí about initial child abuse complaints, partly because it feared litigation, but Dr Shannon said the main reason was because the organisation prioritised limiting the potential for reputational damage over it members.

Most of the complaints referenced in the report referred to one former member, understood to be the officer of the former Old Kilmainhan division.

Dr Shannon described the organisation’s record keeping as “sub-optimal” and said the lack of available documentary evidence regarding the Old Kilmainham division was “concerning”.

The report also contains details of more recent allegations that were reported to the paramedic organisation.

Shortcomings were found in the handling of these allegations, some of which detailed grooming and sexual abuse of young children.

Among the disturbing incidents review by Dr Shannon, one related to a member who had allegedly performed oral sex on a child cadet; in another case an adult member had allegedly asked two cadets to perform oral sex, while in 2016 an adult who was the subject of a child protection matter had not attended child protection training for four years.

The review found ongoing complacency towards potential risks and that there is denial about past failures within the organisation. It also found that a hierarchical and military-like structure which insulated past abusive behaviour still exist and it is not appropriate for a healthy child protection and safeguarding culture.

Dr Shannon has recommended that St John Ambulance should offer victim-survivors an apology and appropriate supports. He said there should be an overhaul of the organisation’s internal governance, structure, record keeping, and supervision of its cadets. He also recommended the appointment by St John Ambulance of an independent and full-time national safeguarding officer.