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The Return of the Dalkey Baby

Posted by damien on June 17, 2006

dalkey_castle.jpgFor several weeks in the summer of 2005, the Irish media indulged itself in a feeding frenzy of tabloid-like hysteria surounding the gruesome story of 'Niamh' (now identified as 'Cynthia Owen') who claimed that she had been the victim of abuse by an organised cabal of child-molesters. This resulted in her becoming pregnant whilst still a child herself - a crime allegedly faciliated by her parents. 'Niamh' then claimed to have watched as her new-born infant was stabbed to death with a knitting needle.

In the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London, the Dalkey Baby story dropped off the main media's radar - the last we heard being that an excavation (looking for the remains of an infant) in a Dublin garden, had revealed nothing. But, one year later, the story is back.

False memory syndrome

The full details of Dalkey Baby story are covered in detail on in an original article from 2005. The key thing to note is that the claims at the heart of Cynthia Owen's story would appear to stem from 'memories' which were unearthed during 'regression therapy' in England. And as anyone who knows anything about the history of child-abuse hysteria will know, regression therapy is, to be quite blunt, a complete crock. More than that, it is profoudly dangerous crock, which has led to the destruction of countless homes, families and lives.

The 'memories' which emerge from this therapy are, according to mainstream science, total bunkum - borne of what is now routinely referred to as 'False memory syndrome'. False memory syndrome is classified, by Dr. John F. Kihlstrom, professor of psychology at Yale University as follows:

"a condition in which a person's identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behavior. The analogy to personality disorder is intentional. False Memory Syndrome is especially destructive because the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated and resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life."

New focus

This time the focus is not on the remains of the child alleged to have been buried in the Dun Laoghaire garden, but on the other infant that was found in Lee's Lane in Dun Laoghaire on April 4, 1973. The remains of this child were subsequently buried in a large grave in the Little Angels plot in Glasnevin cemetery. And now, the Dublin County Coroner, Dr Kieran Geraghty, has suggested that an exhumation should take place to allow for DNA testing. Dr. Geraghty wrote to the Irish Justice Minister, Michael McDowell to ask for the exhumation two weeks ago. That said, Dr. Geraghty was at pains to point out that the exhumation would be deeply problematic.

And he was not the only one to have reservations:

'The voluntary, independent body that owns and operates Glasnevin cemetery, the Dublin Cemeteries Committee, said it did not support the exhumation and neither would most of the families with infants buried at the plot. Some 50,000 babies are buried there.

"We would not be in favour of this because of the disturbance. We have had a lot of upset and irate people on the phone to us today. I would say they would be horrified," committee chief executive George McCullough said yesterday.

"There has been no indication that this was in the pipeline. We have been helping the Garda and archaeologists in the past year with their investigation and thought they had come to the conclusion that it was not feasible."

Mr McCullough said they knew exactly which grave the infant was buried in but that "hundreds" of other infants might be disturbed in an attempt to reach this grave. There are 20-25 infants buried in each grave.'

The following day, the 8th of June, the press reported that Minister McDowell was going to reject the request for an exhumation.

'It is expected that the request will be refused on ethical grounds as hundreds of bodies of babies have been buried in that section of the graveyard.

The exhumation was described last night by one expert as "a logistical nightmare". He said it would be impossible to get the permission of the parents of all of the other babies who had been buried there.

"There are ethical issues involved and the fresh pain that would be caused to grieving parents has to be taken into account. "It is also far from certain that a search of the plot would provide evidence that would seriously advance the investigation," he added.'

The pretence of science

Whilst I have nothing but sympathy for Cynthia Owen (she has, quite clearly, suffered at length over this issue - whatever the truth of it) it's quite breath-taking that one year after the initial hullabaloo, in which time coroners, journalists, policemen and lawyers have had an abundance of time to reflect on and research this issue, we find ourselves back where we started: a three-ring media circus based on the unsubstantiated accusations of a woman whose memories of abuse stem from a dangerous branch of charlatanry; carrried out by con-men, hucksters and new-age sensationalists masquerading under the pretence of science.

The case of the Dalkey Baby and the suffering of the Owen family is upsetting in the extreme. But this should not deter those in the business of reporting 'the news' (is such a term can even be used thse days) to observe the simple fact that the entire episode has been borne of an utterly discredited, pseudo-scientific pile of nonsense. Once again, we must sadly observe, Irish journalists have manifestly failed in doing their jobs. And it's not like we're talking about a need for extensive research here: a simple google search would have told the truth of this.

But as we learned long ago, from the now notorious incident on where forum posters manufactured a fabricated news story about Silvio Berlusconi, which was printed by the Irish Independent, Irish journalism is in a shambolic state. In an age when newspapers no longer seem to care for reporting the news, but concentrate rather on providing an audience to sell to advertisers, with never-ending deadlines driving an industry to parrot press-release after press-release, perhaps it's time to ask ourselves if most broadsheets have any right to claim that they continue to employ 'journalists' at all.


Original piece from 2005

'Mother' of dead baby welcomes move to exhume

Coroner seeks exhumation of baby's remains

McDowell will reject request to exhume stabbed baby

False Memory Syndrome

Anyone interested in False Memory Syndrome is urged to read the following two articles by Prof. Chris French:

Families are still living the nightmare of false memories of sexual abuse

Church must accept reality of false memories of childhood sexual abuse

Posted by damien at June 17, 2006 12:05 PM