Bessborough Mother and baby vaccine trial files altered in 2002

The files of vaccine trial victims in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home were altered in 2002 — just weeks after the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse sought discovery of records from the order running the home.

Material obtained by the Irish Examiner under Freedom of Information shows that changes were made to the records of mothers and children used in the 1960/61 4-in-1 vaccine trials.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) had sought discovery of the records from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary on July 22, 2002. An affidavit was sworn on October 3, 2002, and on a number of later dates in 2002 and 2003.

The document listing the changes opens with: “8.8.02 Checked the 20 files.” This is immediately followed by: “9.8.02 Made the changes.” The changes made to files Nos 5, 8, 11, 12, and 15 to 20 are then detailed.

The changes include:

  • The alteration of discharge dates of mothers (by a period of one year and two years);
  • The changing of discharge dates of children;
  • The changing of admission dates of mothers;
  • The alteration of the age of a mother (by two years);
  • The alteration of dates of adoption;
  • The changing of baptism dates and location of baptism;
  • The insertion of certain named locations and information into admission books.

A data protection request released to Bessborough vaccine trial victim Mari Steed in 2011 also confirms this timeline.

A file listing details about both her and her natural mother was created on August 6, 2002. This was done following a request “for Solicitor re Vaccine”. Ms Steed’s natural mother is listed as “No 19 on Doctor’s List”. The record lists “All Counties DUBLIN” above discharge information pertaining to her mother.

The document listing the changes notes that this information was inserted into Ms Steed’s original file.

The entry reads: “No 19 [house name redacted] Crossed out the Indoor Reg entry as it is corssed (sic) out in the Book. Inserted DUBLIN after All Counties.”

Another entry reads: “No 17 [house name redacted] Changed nm [natural mother] disch from x/x/60 to x/x/62”.

Given that the trial took place between December 1960 and November 1961, this change has the effect of placing this woman in Bessborough during the period her child was vaccinated.

If she was, in fact, discharged from Bessborough at the date given in 1960, she could not have been present to consent for her child to have been part of the vaccine trial.

The question of consent was the key issue being examined by the CICA’s Vaccines Module before it was shut down in 2003 following a Supreme Court ruling.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in relation to the document. It declined to answer any of them.

A statement from Ruairí Ó Catháin solicitors, representing the order, stated that it had “no immediate knowledge of any specific event” concerning alterations made to records.

“We are in contact with the commission in regard to the Mother and Baby Homes Investigation, which is having our full co-operation. For the present, as is appropriate, we will be dealing directly with the commission on all related matters,” said a statement.

In a separate statement, the order said it wished to “categorically state that no documents were altered”.

“In your recent correspondence, you are suggesting that something illegal or inappropriate had occurred in regard to the documents to which you refer,” said the statement. “This is entirely untrue; and we will continue to deal directly with the official commission on all such matters.”

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has copied all the records relating to Bessborough and is currently analysing them alongside the other 17 institutions being examined. Its final report is expected in February 2018.

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