The Four Courts
A man who defiled a 14-year-old schoolgirl, who was sleeping over at her friend’s house, has had the final year of his prison sentence suspended on appeal.
The 42-year-old man, who details cannot be published to protect the victim's identity, pleaded guilty to five counts at Naas Circuit Criminal Court, including the defilement of a child and sexual assault, at a location in Co Kildare on dates in January and February 2014.
He was given an effective eight year sentence by Judge Michael O'Shea on December 4, 2015.
The Court of Appeal suspended the final 12 months of his eight-year term today, Friday, May 26, after holding that the man's early guilty plea was significant enough to have been specifically referred to in the sentence.
Giving judgment, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the man, who was 38 at the time, was in a relationship with a lady whose daughter was the 14-year-old victim's school friend.
The victim had gone to the man's home for a sleepover with her friend. Initially there was contact between the parties through Facebook and some of this “involved suggestive messaging from” the man.
The victim indicated that matters progressed until a date between January 21 and 23 when the victim was sleeping over with her school friend. The man's partner was out working and, when the victim went upstairs to charge her phone, the man came into her room.
The sentencing judge described the impact on the victim, who has Asperger's Syndrome, as “catastrophic”.
The sentencing judge was criticised for commenting that the sexual abuse could only be described as “disgusting, denigrating, repulsive, horrific, shocking and humiliating”. It was submitted by Karl Monahn BL, for the man, that those remarks indicated the judge was not approaching his task of sentencing in a dispassionate way.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the offences were “very serious”. The age gap was “very considerable”, the injured party was visiting the house for a sleepover with her school friend, there was an element of grooming, gradual progression and despite being specifically averted to the risk of pregnancy, the man proceeded to have intercourse without a condom.
In the Court of Appeal's view, the case had to be met with a significant sentence.
Mr Justice Birmingham said it was not clear how the mitigating factors, particularity the early guilty plea, impacted on the sentence that was actually imposed.
The guilty plea was offered at a sufficiently early stage to obviate the need to transfer the case “off circuit” or to Dublin.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the it would have been appropriate to address it specifically in the sentence.
For this reason, Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Hedigan, said the court was prepared to suspend the final 12 months of the eight year sentence.
So providing will strengthen the provision for three years post-release supervision “which of course remains in place”, the judge said.