A female claiming to be a 16-year-old child and currently held in a juvenile justice unit charged with attempted murder, may be considerably older, it has emerged.
The defendant, who cannot be identified due to her purported age, first appeared before Dungannon Magistrates’ Court in November last year charged with attempting to murder a female social worker and having a knife with intent to commit murder.
At that time a detective constable explained the defendant is a refugee who travelled to Northern Ireland by herself in 2021 from Eritrea in East Africa.
Without any parental or responsible adult input, she was supported by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust 14+ Team, residing in specialist accommodation in Dungannon.
Prior to the incident she was reported missing seven times including the run-up to her arrest.
On that occasion, she was located in Belfast by police who alerted her social worker and took her to her accommodation, which had been cleaned ahead of her return.
The defendant entered the property with her social worker who went into the kitchen and began unpacking groceries telling her, “I’ve bought you all your favourite things.”
Without warning the defendant “immediately struck the social worker to the back of head with the knife”.
The victim screamed and was struck again to the head, once to the neck and twice to the arm.
Police were still outside and contained the defendant while an ambulance arrived and rushed the social worker to hospital where she underwent specialist surgery.
The defendant was arrested and during interview admitted attacking the social worker with the knife but gave no indication why she did this.
The court was told her identity remains unconfirmed and there are five different dates of birth and six variations of her age registered with the Home Office.
She was remanded in custody and during a recent hearing it was confirmed the case has been fast-tracked toward committal for trial.
The defendant, who appeared by video-link and had the procedures explained through an interpreter, became angry that a member of staff in the juvenile unit was remaining in the room, stating “I need privacy. I have a person standing beside me”.
Despite this being standard procedure, District Judge Michael Ranaghan instructed the staff member to stand outside the room, leaving the defendant alone for the hearing.
A defence barrister explained a difficulty has arisen around bail as the defendant claims to have been trafficked and has no available address.
The Home Office is alert to this and a psychological evaluation is due to be conducted in the coming weeks.
The defence continued: “We are aware an assessment has been made which indicates (defendant) is in fact 24 and details are being sought as to how this figure was arrived at.”
Judge Ranaghan remanded the defendant in continuing custody until April 12 when a committal hearing is expected to take place and she will be returned for trial.
Before concluding, she asked through the interpreter, “when do I get a chance to tell my side of the story?” but the judge simply advised her lawyers would be in contact and would answer any questions she had.