A former St John Ambulance volunteer, who previously worked with juvenile members in Cabinteely, south Dublin, pleaded guilty to grooming and attempting to meet a child for sexual activity in England two years ago.
Larry Shannon (58), a former long-time member of the voluntary paramedic organisation, was given a 12-month suspended sentence by a UK court in 2019.
Shannon, who died in early May, was a cadet superintendent working with youth members in the organisation’s Cabinteely division in the 1980s and 1990s.
He also helped draft St John Ambulance’s child protection policy in the 1990s, according to another individual involved in the process.
In a 2019 hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court, England, the former volunteer pleaded guilty to grooming and attempting to meet a child under 16 years of age, with the intention of touching him sexually.
Shannon, who had moved to England in recent years, was caught in an online sting by a “paedophile hunter” group, the court heard.
The former St John Ambulance volunteer had messaged an account online belonging to someone claiming to be a 15-year-old boy.
Shannon exchanged messages and an indecent photograph with the account, before he arranged to meet what he believed to be a child at a McDonald’s. He was then arrested by police when he turned up at the meeting spot.
In a statement to The Irish Times, an Essex Police spokesman confirmed Shannon was arrested in October 2017 “on suspicion of sexual grooming”.
“On July 3rd, 2018, he was charged with being an adult attempting to meet a boy under 16 years of age, following grooming,” he said. He was also charged with attempting to cause a child to look at an image of sexual activity, the spokesman said.
“On August 2nd, 2019, he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years,” he said. Shannon was also registered as a sex offender, ordered to attend a rehabilitation service, and to pay £500 (€580) costs.
One source with knowledge of the case said the messages between Shannon and the account occurred over an hour-and-a-half period on a single day.
Shannon had lived in Co Wicklow prior to moving to the UK. He had owned a health and safety training company, and was a member of a Freemasons lodge in Wicklow.
Following news of Shannon’s death in early May, St John Ambulance described him as a “loyal” volunteer, in an email to its membership.
John Hughes, the organisation’s commissioner, told members Shannon was a “good friend,” whose death came as a shock.
“For me personally, Larry was a good colleague and loyal St John member,” Mr Hughes wrote. “In recent years, we only saw each other occasionally and that tended to be when Larry was in Dublin and dropped into HQ,” he said.
After details of Shannon’s conviction was put to the organisation, a spokesman said it wished “to apologise to anyone within its membership base or the public, including most particularly victims of abuse, that were offended by the regretful email”.
The organisation could not respond to further questions, “as a consequence of the legal proceedings and independent review currently under way”.
An investigation by The Irish Times last year revealed several men had been sexually abused in the 1990s by a separate senior figure in St John Ambulance.
That alleged abuser, a man now in his 80s, was a senior figure in the Old Kilmainham division. Five men have now come forward disclosing they were allegedly abused by the man.
Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, a child law expert, has been commissioned to conduct an independent review into how the organisation handled past reports of child abuse. Three survivors are taking civil cases against the organisation over the alleged abuse.
Anyone with information related to historical child abuse in St John Ambulance has been asked to contact Dr Geoffrey Shannon and the independent review at: [email protected]