Death of a teenage offender recalls his Naas court appearance


Conor McHugh


Conor McHugh

Death of a teenage offender recalls his Naas court appearance

Naas courthouse

Last November this reporter wrote a piece about a young teenager who was in the care of the state and had appeared at Naas District Court.

He was being held in a facility for teenagers in Kildare although he was not from the county.

His was a curious case — he did not fit the bill of a typical teenage offender in so far as drugs and drink did not play a role — he was an earnest young man with an easy smile and plans for the future.

But during the course of his court appearance, his tragic and devastating family circumstances were revealed.

In the past week, the Leinster Leader has learned that he died on Monday, May 2 on Trinity Street, Dublin. 

It is understood he was struck by a car in the early hours of the morning.

He had been staying in a nearby hostel and the Child and Family Agency, has launched an investigation.

Here we reproduce the original article:

As usual, the sound of a pin dropping is marked by a momentary absence of sound.

Nothing to be said, no breath with which to say it.

The teenager, wearing a pale grey tracksuit and thick rimmed glasses looks down at the floor for a moment, before raising his face back up to the judge.

He knows; we all know. This conversation has changed, for neither the better or worse, but changed with such a profound realisation you’d prefer, perhaps, not to have known.

When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you, as Nietzsche said.

“And you were eight?”


More silence.

Stunned, slack-jawed, subdued, pale-faced.

To understand the moment, you have to have been there for the past 20 minutes.

Possibly, you need to have sat through a few hundred similar cases, over a couple of years - to truly get it.

But as best I can, in as faithful a chronology as possible, here goes.

A 16-year-old teenager appeared before Judge Desmond Zaidan on Thursday afternoon, November 19, in an almost empty courtroom.

For legal reasons which protect the identity of minors, we cannot identify him, and for lots of non-legal reasons that may become clear as you read on, we don’t need to. It just doesn’t matter.

He was taken, with the voluntary agreement of his parents, from his family almost two years ago and placed into State care.

Since the beginning of November, he has been in prison, in Oberstown, serving a sentence. (At the time of writing, he was due for release in March.)

Weary of seeing this happen over and over again, Judge Zaidan, like most judges who have presided over cases like this, is irritated that once again the State has sought fit to intervene so violently in the life of a young person, and apparently failed in one of its most basic duties - to keep them out of prison.

A huge number of children, probably a majority, who enter the care of the State will end up in jail.

If any set of parents had such an awful record they’d be banned from having children, and yet the State has convinced itself that it’s in the best interest of the child.

After he was initially taken into care, then aged 14, he was placed in a residential facility somewhere in Kildare.

Last Thursday he was in court to face two charges of criminal damage.

Basically, twice in the space of two days, he had a disagreement with the people employed to look after him.

Could he go and visit his girlfriend?


Instead of slamming a door and sulking like most teenagers, he trashed the place, causing over €4,000 worth of damage.

The following day, he did something similar - a car this time. Superintendent Martin Walker who was prosecuting the case againt him explained that the defendant had seven previous convictions for theft, possession of knives and public order matters.

As juvenile offenders (as they’re called) go, it’s pretty run of the mill stuff.

The judge is annoyed that proper evaluations have yet to take place, the slow rate at which the Child and Family Agency move, and his annoyance is directed at the young solicitor who is there to represent them.

The judge and the teenager’s solicitor, Arthur Denneny, are a great double act. It’s good cop, bad cop.

With that unmistakable tone of voice that we all employ with errant teenagers, the judge interrogates him, tries to put the fear of God in him; while Denneny plays up how well behaved he’s been in Oberstown.

Judge: “You realise your behaviour is awful?”

Denneny: “He’s studying for his Junior Cert. They say he’s a model prisoner.”

Judge: “This could go to the Circuit Court, where the maximum sentence is 10 years. I could send you to jail for two years.”

Denneny: “I’m just trying to give him a future.”

And so it goes on, the cajoling, the threatening, the pleading - all the while trying to understand why an apparently friendly and good-natured 16-year-old with an easy laugh who is good at English and maths and wants to work with horses could have previous convictions for possession of knives or thrash a house and frighten a young social care worker on her first day on the job.

The judge commends him for having a sense of ambition, a sense of knowing where he wants to go in the world. It’s uncommon with these cases.

He admires that he’s good at english and maths, and tells him, it could give him the opportunity to go far.

He admits, by way of encouragement, “I was no good at maths”.

Arthur Denneny piles on the encouragement: “If you stick with your education, the world is your oyster.”

“If I was taken away from my family at 14, I don’t where I’d be. It’s appalling.”

“Why were you so angry?” the judge asks.

“I bottle things up, and then just explode,” the teenager says.

The judge turns to the solicitor from the Child and Family Agency. “I want a definite answer to why he’s behaving like this. I want no more messing.”


“I want, I want, I want, I want the answer. Keep it simple, I want the answer!” he says, irritated.

Judge Zaidan asks if there’s a problem with drugs and drink.

The teenager says he used to smoke a bit, but doesn’t any more.

“See, that’s the problem right there. If you abuse drugs, it messes with your mind.”

The defendant struggles to suppress a laugh. Denneny reassures the judge - “It’s a nervous fear laughter”.

The double act reaches its crescendo.

“If the judge gives you a chance will you behave?”

“If I give you a chance, is it a deal?”


“Are you certain? If he gives you chance?”

“If I give you a chance….?”

“100%. I will. I will.”

That’s, more or less, the 20 minutes before.

Then, by way of an innocent, just-out-of-curiosity question, the judge asks if he has any siblings?


“Are you the eldest?”

“No, but me brother committed suicide eight year ago.

“He hung himself when he was 13.”

For the past 20 minutes, we weren’t at the races, we couldn’t even see the tip of the iceberg.

We can never know nor imagine the vernacular of grief that is forced upon an eight year old when his 13 year old brother is found hanging.

We have the luxury of being able to hope that we’ll never know the language of that much trauma.

“And you were eight?”


“Did you or your family ever get counselling?”



“That’s something you’d want to look into,” Judge Zaidan tells the Child and Family Agency man.

“If you can’t do it, then get onto Pieta House. They do great work.”

After the teenager leaves the courtroom.

“When you ask questions…..” the judge says to those of us who are left to contemplate the abyss looking back into us.