A 29-year-old Laois man has been found guilty of sexually abusing his niece over a four-year period.
The injured party was aged between five and nine at the time, with the abuse taking place at locations in Laois between 2002 and 2006.
At the recent circuit court, the man was found guilty on six counts of sexual assault, with the jury finding him not guilty on a further three counts. A number of other counts of sexual assault were withdrawn from the jury over the course of the trial due to insufficient evidence from the State.
The court heard that the injured party’s parents were working long hours setting up their own business at the time and the accused would often babysit the injured party and her younger brother.
The injured party, now aged 19, told the court that the accused, who was ten years older than her, had been “kind of like a brother figure” to her.
She said he used to stay on and off with her family, sleeping on the couch at times and on a mattress on her bedroom floor.
“He often slept in my bed as well,” she said.
She said that from the start of 2002 he began to sleep in her room a lot more and would often comment on the heat of the room, telling her to take off her pyjamas to get cooler.
“He often took off his boxer shorts in bed,” she said.
The witness said that in early 2002 she woke up one night to find the accused “rubbing his bits” along her leg.
She clarified that this meant his penis and that he was wearing a t-shirt but nothing on the bottom.
“I looked to see, I didn’t understand. He told me I was just dreaming, but I knew I wasn’t,” she said.
She said that a week later, the accused bribed her to do things.
“He said he’d get me sweets if I did a favour for him,” she said, explaining that the favour was a kiss.
She said that he asked her to go upstairs and when she did he asked her to give him a kiss.
“I was kind of embarrassed but I didn’t think much of it because I kiss mummy and daddy good night,” she said, adding that she thought but couldn’t remember that his hand had been on her leg.
She said that he always closed his eyes when he kissed her, and at times he would push her lips open with his tongue.
“I was shuffling away from him, I didn’t understand what was happening…. I was a bit confused, because I thought it was only older people (who did that) and I was a bit confused as he was my uncle.”
The witness said that this happened six to eight times over a number of months.
“He would always put my hand on his leg, or his hand on my leg.”
She said that things moved on to him placing her hand inside his pants.
“I got a fright the first time, “It happened frequently. It became part of my life.”
The witness said that in June 2003 her family relocated to a new house in Laois. She said that she and her younger brother were playing in a field behind the house when the accused came and said that her mother wanted her brother to go in.
After the boy left, the accused told the injured party he would play hide and seek with her. She ran and hid and the accused found her.
“He kissed me using his tongue and pulled down my shorts. I wasn’t afraid, I just kind of trusted him that this kiss was the right thing to do,” she said.
She said he touched her private parts, and pulled her underwear down with her shorts.
She said he put her hand inside his pants and moved her hand around. This went on for a few minutes.
The witness said that the exact same thing happened in her room a week after.
“It happened continuously,” she said.
The witness said that on a date in 2004, after going to a hurling match with the accused, she returned home with him.
At the house, he started kissing her and placed his hand inside her trousers and underneath her underwear.
The witness said that the abuse changed over time.
“It was the same routine all the time, then one night he tried to force my head under the covers,” she said.
She said that the accused would move her body into position, and the abuse always started off with kissing.
She said he put his hand around her neck and forced her head towards his penis, but she clenched her mouth closed.
“I remember shaking my head, but I didn’t open my mouth to say no,” she said.
The witness gave further evidence that on a date in mid-2006, when she was around nine, the accused made a fist out of her hand and he moved her hand up and down for a couple of minutes inside his pants.
Defence for the accused, Mr John Shortt, put it to her that the accused would say he never slept on a mattress in her room, and there was no mattress on the floor.
The witness replied that she remembered the mattress on the floor, and it was there “as long as I can remember”.
Mr Shortt asked, if there was a mattress there, how would the accused end up in her bed.
“He would come and say goodnight to us if he was looking after us,” she said.
She said that the accused would ask her if could he sleep in her bed, and she did not know if he asked her parents or not. Mr Shortt said it seemed a bit bizarre that, as she was five and he was 15 at the time, he would ask to sleep in her room and defence asked what knowledge did the witness’s parents have of this.
“I don’t know, it was never a big deal,” she said.
The accused, who denied all the charges put to him, took to the witness box.
He said that the injured party’s mother used to put her to bed, and he had no recollection of a mattress being on the floor of her bedroom.
He said he was “never, ever” in her bed and denied all incidents of sexual assault. He said he had never brought her to a hurling match on his own, and said he was never alone in the house with the children.
He said he was “totally shocked” by the allegations.
“The last two years have been the worst two years of my life,” he said. “I can’t believe something like this could come up.”
During cross-examination by State prosecutor, Mr Will Fennelly, the witness agreed it was fair to say he had a second home with the victim’s family and he was held in some affection by them. “We did have ups and downs… it wasn’t all rosy,” he said.
Mr Fennelly put it to him that there had been no big row among the parties, and there was no money to be made by the victim in these allegations, nor was there any benefit to her.
“Not that I can think of,” replied the accused.
The accused agreed that there was no independent explanation at all as to why the victim was making the allegations.
After further questioning, he agreed that if had been babysitting and it was early, he would have put the children to bed.
The jury found the accused guilty on six counts of sexual assault, and not guilty on three other counts.
The matter has gone back to November 29 to fix a date for sentencing.
There was no State objection to bail, with a condition that the accused keep out of a named location in Laois.