'Domestic tyrant' abused own children

A 51-year-old Laois father of three was sentenced to four years at Portlaoise Circuit Court last week for sexual assaults on his son and daughter, who agreed that he should be named.

Arthur Nicholls, from Tierhogar, Portarlington had pleaded guilty last May to the assaults on his son in 1993-94 and his daughter on two occasions between December 1990 and January 1994. The court heard that the girl was assaulted at the age of 11 and at an older age, the boy at 12. The graphic evidence presented last week caused Judge Anthony Kennedy to describe Nichols as a "domestic tyrant" and "house devil" whose actions were "fuelled by gross abuse of alcohol".

Mr William Fennelly, BL, prosecuting, said that the garda investigation began in July 2007 following complaints. The daughter had described two incidents, one of which happened in her parents' bed, the second in her own bedroom. Mr Fennelly went on to describe the assault on the defendant's son, which took place on a night when he was babysitting his brother. The next day, the father took the boy for a drive and attributed his behaviour to drinking whiskey. The court also heard how the son and daughter went through serious drink and drug problems as a result of what happened. The defendant's marriage broke up in 2002.

Mr Fennelly said that the daughter first told a teacher of the abuse, but did not say her father was the abuser. He added that the defendant's wife suspected abuse and confronted her husband, who did not deny it. He added that the son's statement referred to a confrontation with his father after the latter objected to a girlfriend staying in the house.

Garda Patricia Timoney said that neither sibling knew the other had been abused until shortly before they went to the garda. The officer read statements by the defendant and the injured parties. She quoted the defendant as admitting to being "a horrible father". The court also heard that another son had not been abused, but had found it very difficult to learn of his siblings being abused.

The son said, "My whole life has been affected." He spoke of how he had been dealing all his life with anger and turning it on the wrong people. He spoke of feeling uncomfortable undressing at sports, and not being able to go to the toilet in public toilets. He told that his father would often play mind games and also played the siblings against one another. "He blamed me for the break-up of the marriage," he stated. The son told the court that when he was 14 or 15 he started drinking, and he smoked hash daily for a time. His father was "very controlling and manipulative" and he himself turned to speed and acid as a teenager.

When the son returned from Australia in 2005, he stopped smoking hash and it was in that year he met his partner. The abuse had affected his relationship with her. The young man said that his partner and himself were due to have a baby soon. "How can I tell him or her that I don't want their grandfather in their life?" he asked. Under cross-examination, he said he resented his mother as she still slept with her husband after being told what happened.

The daughter told the court that she had gone through drink and drug problems, and sleeping with many men, as a result of what happened. It was not until she was 21 or 22 that she got counselling. After seeing a psychologist, she realised she needed to cut her ties with her father. She said she still needed to have someone with her in public places. She and her partner went to Australia, but after only three months she returned to Ireland so she could report her father to the garda. The young woman spoke of how she and her partner went through intimacy issues because of the abuse, but help from a sex therapist meant they were now back on track.

The woman also spoke of how she had an irrational fear of the dark. "The people you are meant to trust most are your parents," she said, going on to say she became reclusive and had panic attacks. She started to drink at 11 or 12 and took ecstasy and cocaine. "I became promiscuous," she continued, saying that she could now see the men were just using her. When her mother told her she knew, the drug taking got worse.

The defendant Arthur Nicholls said he was originally from Bracknagh, but when his grandmother died his father got a house in St Michael's Park, Portarlington. He transferred from Bracknagh NS to Portarlington CBS. He spoke of how he was himself abused by a Christian Brother and a teenage cousin. Regarding his abuse of his own children, he said: "I couldn't believe I did it. I still don't understand why I did it, especially as I knew from my own experience," he added. "I was too domineering, I was bullying them," he stated. He spoke of how he had contemplated suicide but could not do it.

Nicholls described the therapy he had undergone with One in Four, adding that there was "no excuse" for his actions and he could never make it up to his "innocent" children, whose trust he had abused. The court heard the defendant was on anti-depressants, and had a heart attack two years after splitting with his wife.

Mr Barry Finlay, BL, defending, said his client had accepted responsibility for his behaviour and understood the damage he had done. "He's not the worst of people, though he did the worst of deeds."

Judge Anthony Kennedy spoke of the children's loss of innocence and bodily integrity, and the damage to their psycho-sexual development. However, he gave Nicholls credit for his detailed confession and remorse, and noted the social disgrace he had experienced. Earlier, Judge Kennedy spoke of how reports given to him did not explain why the defendant, himself a victim of abuse, went on to be an abuse.The judge said that paedophiles such as the defendant had a "warped mentality" in viewing children as sexual objects.

He ordered the defendant to be placed on the sex offenders' register and imposed sentences totalling four years.


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