The case of Eddie Hernon is significant in that the false allegation of child sex abuse was made against him in 1987 i.e. several years before such allegations were commonly made against Irish priests, religious and Bishops. However his accuser Doctor Moira Woods was a well known feminist and anti-cleric and a partner of a leading member of the anti-clerical Workers Party.
Eddie Hernon brought a case against Dr Woods to the Irish Medical Council in 1992. It took 10 years before the Medical Council found Dr Woods guilty of professional misconduct in January 2002. It took almost another decade before Eddie, his child and his former partner received an apology and damages following a High Court action in February 2011.
Born in 1940, Eddie Hernon left school at 13 years of age, after attending North Brunswick St Christian Brothers School, Dublin . He worked on building sites all his life, got married at 24 and they had five children. During the 1980s he split up from his wife and took up with another woman, Bernadette with whom he had a child, a girl named Cherie.
When they came to visit him during Christmas 1985 in London where he was working at the time, the mother noticed blood on the girl's pants and took her to a doctor in London who recorded that the girl had a small graze, "probably the result of the child's own manipulation." He noted "the mother does not feel that there is any possibility of sexual abuse." Eddie became agitated when rumours were started by Bernadette's cousin in London that he had molested the child. A few weeks later, Bernadette took the four year-old to a consultant gynaecologist in the Adelaide hospital, Dublin , Dr Bowman, who wrote: "I have assured Cherie's mum that everything is in order. I could detect no evidence of trauma."
Bernadette was then advised to take Cherie to Dr Moira Woods, then head of the Rotunda Hospital Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) for confirmation that nothing untoward had taken place. This is where Eddie's personal hell on earth began. Even though two doctors, one in England and one in Ireland previously confirmed that no abuse had taken place, Moira Woods diagnosed abuse.
She saw hundreds of children in her time in the Rotunda, 600 children in 1987 alone. Eddie Hernon's daughter Cherie was one of three groups of children who the Medical Council had found that Woods wrongly claimed to have been abused. According to Woods herself, there were no physical signs of abuse, and not even a verbal complaint by the girl, but Woods alleged that abuse had taken place. Her interpretation of the way the girl played with dolls was cited as a reason for her concern during the medical assessment. Woods claimed she had the evidence on video. It later emerged, during the Medical Council enquiry, these tapes were destroyed.
As a result of Moira Woods' report which accused him of sexually molesting his own child, Eddie lost access to his daughter for three and a half years. At one point he could only meet her when a group of people observed them together from behind a double-sided mirror. "You have absolutely no idea what this was like," he said.
The report of Dr Woods was accepted, and acted on by Dr Fred Lowe, a senior clinical psychologist from the Eastern Health Board (EHB). When Eddie tried to bring the case to the attention of the Gardai and the courts, the EHB is alleged to have told Cherie's mother that they would take the child into care if she sought to have medical records released to the courts.
In 1989, Harry Colley on behalf of the EHB acknowledged in writing that "there is not and never was sufficient evidence to warrant a fit person order" in relation to the case. The EHB withdrew from the case and Eddie got unrestricted access to his child again. However, this was not enough for Mr Hernon.
After many years of struggle he lodged a formal complaint against Dr Moira Woods to the Medical Council in 1992. Although delayed for years by legal obstructions, in January 2002 the Medical Council found Dr Moira Woods guilty of professional misconduct in relation to the diagnosis of sexual abuse of 11 children during the 1980s. She failed to apply necessary standards of judgement and competence, and acted in a manner derogatory to the reputation of the medical profession, it said.
In many ways, this was a vindication for Eddie Hernon. However , he has never once received a public statement of apology from Dr Moira Woods for the allegations that were made against him. Moira Woods is believed to have sold her extensive property holdings in Ireland , including a house in Ailesbury Road and moved to Tuscany where she currently runs a Bed and Breakfast.
Asked how such a deplorable scenario could come about, and why such an exceedingly high rate of child abuse was reported from the Rotunda SATU, Mr Hernon puts the blame firmly on the shoulders of what he calls "the small clique of radical feminist ideologues who wish to paint all men as potential child abusers and rapists. Their attack is on the biological father and the family."
Dr Moira Woods
Moira Woods' involvement in this story is central. The Government was made aware that there was a problem with exaggerated reports of child sexual abuse in April 1987 during which time Dr Woods was in charge of the unit. Joe Robins, a civil servant in the Dept of Health wrote in a memo at the time to the Department secretary: "There have been far too many exaggerated comments and statistics put out by persons such as Moira Woods, Ann O'Donnell and Clodagh Corcoran who are turning child sexual abuse, in particular, into an industry."
Incidentally, these three people, author, Clodagh Corcoran, Ann O'Donnell, then director of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, and Moira Woods; along with Fred Lowe and others were members of a working group set up by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties with government funding in 1984 to make recommendations about policy and law on child sexual abuse.
By June 1987, the government proposed to close down the Rotunda Hospital Sexual Assault Treatment Unit. This they quickly did with the stipulation that none of the staff previously employed in the Rotunda SATU were allowed to take up posts in the new purpose built child treatment units in the St Louis and St Clare clinics.
Woods' medical career however, was not ended by the closing of the Rotunda SATU. She went on to become clinical director of CARI (Children at Risk in Ireland ). Dr Fred Lowe went on to be the clinical psychologist involved in the assessment of the girl at the centre of the 'X case'. He went on to sit on the Investigation Committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan Commission).
Eddie Hernon now lives in a small pensioners flat in north Dublin city. He has never received compensation for what happened to him.
Eddie Hernon has kept his sanity and kept his faith. Although having lost trust in institutions, and no longer practising as a Catholic, still he prays every day, dropping occasionally into a Catholic church to do so. There is a calendar of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on the kitchen wall. For such a physically small man, he has shown he is willing to make a stand not only for his own good name but as he points out, for all those who have been falsely accused of the abuse of children.
The End of a 25 Year Saga?
The following article appeared in the Irish Times on 18 February 2011. It does not mention Eddie Hernon's name!
Wrongful Sex Abuse Diagnosis Case Settled
A MAN, his wife and their daughter have settled a High Court action against a doctor and the State arising from a conclusion by the doctor that the man had sexually abused his daughter. The man denied any such abuse.
A Medical Council inquiry subsequently found professional misconduct on the part of Dr Maura Woods in assessing the then seven-year-old girl at the sexual assault unit at Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital in 1986 as having been sexually abused and physically assaulted by her father. That 1986 assessment was requested by the girl’s mother to prove that claims made by another relative that the man had abused his daughter were unfounded, it was claimed. The family brought proceedings seeking damages for slander, libel, negligence, breach of duty and breach of their constitutional rights.
They also claimed aggravated damages arising from alleged defamatory statements made about the man by Dr Woods; a psychologist who also examined the child and concluded she was sexually abused, and by social workers.The man said the statements were made falsely and maliciously and he had refused to forgo access to his daughter as was sought. He applied to the District Court and was granted supervised access in early 1989.
Yesterday, Liam Reidy, for the plaintiffs, told Mr Justice John Quirke the cases had been settled and could be struck out. No details were revealed in court.
The proceedings were against Dr Woods, described as employed by the HSE at the time, the State and the Attorney General, the Minister for Health and the HSE. Mr Reidy said the man’s daughter was now in her twenties and the case related to an examination carried out by Dr Woods in 1986 at the Rotunda Sexual Assault Unit. As a result of the examination, the Medical Council made an inquiry and found there was professional misconduct on the part of Dr Woods in her assessment in which she found the child had been sexually abused by her father, he said.
Counsel said the defendants acknowledged the council’s decision and also said it was regrettable there was no system in place at the time to review the finding. The defendants all recognised and acknowledged the hurt experienced by the plaintiffs, he added.
In the man’s claim, it was claimed Dr Woods had interviewed the child a number of times and a video recording of interviews was also made. Dr Woods had informed the child’s mother her finding was the child had been sexually abused by her father and he had also physically assaulted her.The child was later referred to a psychologist who also identified the father as having sexually abused his daughter. As a result the child was referred to various social workers and the mother was warned not to allow any further contact between the father and his daughter.
In the District Court in 1989, the father was granted supervised access to his daughter. The parents applied to have the child independently reassessed but the health authority objected on grounds that a reassessment would be “absolutely pointless at this stage”. It was claimed the effects of the defendant’s actions led directly to the loss by the father of his family and entailed living in his neighbourhood under a cloud of suspicion.