Top garda reveals how he busted scam artist ‘GPO girl’ Samantha Azzopardi

The con woman was found in a vulnerable and upset state and unable to speak in Dublin city centre, and gardai initially believed she may have been the child victim of sex trafficking.

Samantha Azzopardi the 'GPO girl'

Samantha Azzopardi

Supt Taylor

Supt Gallagher

Eugene MastersonSunday World

A top garda who helped thwart a scam artist who cost the state an estimated €350,000 in wasted police and medical resources has opened up about the ploy he used to solve the infamous ‘GPO girl’ case.

Australian Samantha Azzopardi (24) was holed up in Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin for a whole month nearly 10 years ago after pretending to authorities at the time she was a stranded 14-year-old.

The con woman was found in a vulnerable and upset state and unable to speak in Dublin city centre, and gardai initially believed she may have been the child victim of sex trafficking.

“On the 10th of October 2013 two young uniformed guards were on beat patrol on O’Connell Street, which is the main street in the city centre. Would be known to most people for the GPO,” Superintendent David Gallagher recalls on the Paramount TV series ‘Con Girl’.

“They came across a young female who presented in a distressed state, crying and looked a little bit bewildered, as if she was lost or if she was confused

“She didn’t speak, she didn’t verbally communicate, but clearly presented as distressed. She indicated she was 14 years of age, numerically with her fingers, but wouldn’t provide any details of herself or why she was upset, what adults were with her or why she was there.

Samantha Azzopardi

“Fearing for the wellbeing of the child, they decided to invoke the childcare act and take her into protective custody until we established who she was and what her situation was.”

Supt Gallagher was a Detective Sergeant back then and became the lead investigator into the case.

“The young female adopted a position of hair over her face and sort of scrunched in in a protective sort of pose. She didn’t engage, she wasn’t speaking,” he recollects.

“She was brought to Temple Street Children’s Hospital, she was uncooperative with the medical people there with regards to examinations.

“She was provided with pen and paper by the police officers as she wasn’t verbalising, and she did doodles of some scribbles, where she drew some pictures.

“There was a picture of an airplane, there was a picture of a cross, there was a picture of a gun drawn. All very bizarre behaviour, but you don’t understand when a person has been a victim of a trauma and how they’re going to respond.

“We had a very very open mind, but there was a lot of assumptions made in the media circles.”

Supt Taylor

They spent several days trying to find out who she was.

“We engaged in a significant number of lines of enquiry,” he confirms. “We canvassed the airports for arrivals, to see if any people matched her description, care homes, doctors, mental health facilities. None of it really led anywhere. She had some orthodontic work done, braces and stuff. So, we contacted dentist surgeries across the country.

“We managed to obtain a partial set of fingerprints from a plate that she held and circulated them internationally as well.”

They were then forced to use a last resort method when nothing else seemed to work.

“We believed the release of a photograph was really our only option,” he explains. “We had requested a number of time could we take her photograph.

"She wouldn’t agree to pose for one. I knew we needed a photograph of her, so we engaged in a sort of a ploy where we moved her from one room to another and I had one of my team there with a covert camera.

“In Ireland children are protected under the Childcare Act for release of their identification, so it’s not something that’s done lightly.”

Retired Supt Dave Taylor was back then head of the Garda Press Office.

“This was highly unusual. Never before has An Garda Siochana or in my time had released a photograph of a child seeking the help of the public of who this child was, it had never happened before in Irish history,” he stresses.

“I have never seen such a response to such a media appeal. It was international media, obviously local media. The coverage was instant, it was vast, it was top of the news.”

Supt Gallagher

Supt Gallagher remembers the media storm it created.

“The image on the story went worldwide. We got calls from Moldova, Bulgaria, Holland, America, Canada. A lot of them dead end. We noticed a significant change as the southern hemisphere came awake. We were starting to get some calls in from Australia, from police stations and police officers, all saying the same name,” he remembers.

“Then we had a call from one of our own officers based in the midlands in Ireland (Tipperary). He had been contacted by a relative of the young female to say who she was and that she had been staying with them in the previous number of weeks. It was the same name we were getting from Australia and that name was Samantha Azzopardi.”

Retired Supt Taylor is scathing about Azzopardi.

“None of it was real, it was a complete scam,” he storms. “ Her whole demeanour was an elaborate ruse. She was good. Anybody who could pull that off for a month while being in hospital, being tended to, being cared for, being asked questions and could maintain this demeanour. It’s somebody who’s very good at what they do, I’ve never seen anything like it before. Or since.

“I had various emotions. I was delighted in one sense that the press conference had identified the person, but also quite angry that valuable police hours had been expended on somebody that could have been well used investigating other crimes.”

There were no criminal charges made against Azzopardi, despite her wasting garda time and getting a free month long stay in a hospital here, with costs of an estimated €350,000. She was sent back to Australia on a plane, again funded by the taxpayer.

“There was real criminal intent in her actions,” Supt Gallagher points out. “ There was no end game or gain in this for Samantha, there was no profit to be made, there was no fraud.

"Like, most frauds are an attempt to illicit cash from somebody and to gain money and to gain status, that wasn’t the case here. For most people it would be abhorrent to spend four weeks not speaking, stuck in a hospital room, not engaging with any family or friends.

“But for Samantha it appeared that this was part of the enjoyment, as someone said it felt probably like her Disney world. But in the end the right decision was made, it was not a criminal matter, it shouldn’t have come into the criminal arena.”

The Irish angle is just one of several case studies in the ‘Con Girl’ series, with several victims who were hoodwinked by the woman, who has had over 70 aliases since she embarked on her career of deception as a 14-year-old girl from Brisbane.

Her pseudonyms ranged from Russian gymnast ‘Emily Sciberras’, who tells her new best friend that her entire family has been killed in a murder-suicide to posing as 14-year-old ‘Aurora Hepburn’, who appears at a clinic in Canada after escaping a terrifying kidnapper, and ‘Laylah’, who convinces a French backpacker to carry out a series of so-called pranks, implicating the innocent woman in a child kidnapping case.

In October 2019, she met a French couple who had recently moved to Melbourne.

Claiming to be 18 years old and called Sakah, Azzopardi moved into their home to become their au pair under false credentials. In November 2019, she told the parents she was taking the two children on a picnic, but instead took them to a mental health unit claiming to be a 14-year old who had been abused by her uncle

After this incident, she was charged with child stealing, theft and property deception, which she pleaded guilty to in May 2021, and received a two-year sentence.

During the trial, it was revealed following multiple assessments that she had been diagnosed by Australian forensic psychiatrist doctor Jacqueline Rakov as suffering borderline personality disorder and a rare phenomenon called pseudologia fantastica, which manifests itself in compulsive lying, internally motivated by her fantasies to recreate a happy childhood narrative.

  • Con Girl will be streamed on the Paramount+ channel from February 22.

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