The Criminal Courts of Justice
A FATHER and mother who engaged in the “most awful” sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and wilful neglect of their children have been jailed for 15 years and nine years respectively.
Sentencing the parents and three other family members in the Central Criminal Court this Tuesday, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the parents had engaged in “the most profound breach of trust a human being can commit against their children”.
He said the children were left isolated and under the total control of their adult relatives, who left them with no one to turn to and who engaged in the most “appalling” and “prolonged” sexual abuse of the three eldest children.
The judge jailed the 57-year-old father for 15 years after he was found guilty of all 31 offences against him. These included raping his three older children, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, wilful neglect and child cruelty.
The 34-year-old mother was jailed for nine years. She was found guilty of all 25 offences against her, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation and wilful neglect of her children.
The children's 49-year-old uncle – the husband of their maternal aunt - was jailed for 15 years. He was found guilty of all 10 counts against him including rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of the three eldest children.
His wife, the children's 35-year-old maternal aunt, was jailed for three years for her part in the abuse, which involved three counts of sexually assaulting two of the children.
The children's maternal uncle (27) was jailed for 15 years. He was found guilty of eight of the nine charges against him in relation to two of the children, including rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation.
The judge said there was no doubt that the effect of the abuse on the children has been enormous.
“The suffering they have endured has been enormous. The difficulties and stresses that they have been under have been enormous,” the judge said.
“I have little doubt there are difficulties they will face in the future resulting out of the consequences of what was done to them and what was not done for them and that this will have an effect on each of their lives.”
The five family members were found guilty by a jury of all but one of the 78 counts against them following a 10-week trial held at Croke Park last summer.
They were all found guilty of sexually abusing the three eldest children on dates between August 2014 and April 2016, while the parents were found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of the children, who were aged between one and nine during this period.
The father was also found guilty of mistreating three of the children by medicating them. The court heard that one of the children had a medical condition and the father admitted to a social worker that he administered his medication to some of the other children to try and “knock them out” at night.
The parents, uncles and aunt have been in custody since last August when the verdicts were handed down. They all continue to maintain their innocence, their sentence hearing was told last week.
None of the five family members reacted when the sentences were handed down.
Mr Justice McDermott said it was clear from the parents' interviews with gardaí that they knew what they were doing was wrong. The court has heard evidence that both parents have intellectual deficits and limitations, which the defence argued lowered their moral culpability.
But the judge said evidence of the parents' intellectual deficits could not be divorced from the “unsettling evidence” that while the parents were engaged in “the most awful sexual abuse of their children and permitting others to do so”, they were hiding these actions from social workers.
“They deceived social workers and others about the sexual abuse that was occurring,” the judge said.
He noted neither parent has shown any indication of regret or remorse. Because they continue to deny their offending, there is no explanation as to “why this sexually deviant behaviour occurred”.
The judge said the parents failed in their duty to care for, nurture and protect their children, and instead caused them “pain and suffering to a very high degree”. The children were “very cruelly and badly treated and it was a continuous form of abuse and neglect”.
Mr Justice McDermott paid tribute to the foster parents who he said performed “a peculiar task in caring for the children who were so damaged and so lacking in care and so lacking in understanding of the basic level of behaviour in how to look after themselves.”
“They have provided an enormous level of care for these children who came into their lives in a manner they had not anticipated, requiring a level of care they couldn't have anticipated,” he said.
He also praised the gardaí and the lead inspector for their professionalism in dealing with the case.
Mr Justice McDermott backdated the sentences to when the five went into custody last August. He set a three-year post-release supervision period and he ordered that they have no contact, either directly or indirectly, with the children.
The trial heard the family was on Tusla's radar as far back as 2011, but intervention ramped up in 2014. The children were eventually removed from the family home and placed in various foster homes in 2016 on the grounds of severe neglect.
A sixth child was born after the children were taken into care in what was described as a “concealed pregnancy”. The mother received no medical care until the end of her pregnancy and the father told gardaí he didn't know she was pregnant. This baby was also removed from the family home.
Extensive reporting restrictions are in place to protect the welfare and identities of the children.
The court heard that after they were placed in care, the eldest three children started to make disclosures in relation to sexual abuse at the hands of their parents and other relatives, leading to their arrests in 2018.
The trial heard harrowing evidence from more than 30 witnesses including the children themselves, their foster parents, teachers, social and family support workers, medical professionals and gardaí.
The court heard that the children were small and thin for their age, and suffered a range of issues while in the care of their parents including chronic tooth decay, dietary problems and low weight, recurring head lice and scabies, third degree sunburn and marks and scarring to their bodies. They had a wide range of behavioural issues including hyper-vigilance, over-compliance and anxiety.
In victim impact statements read out in court by the inspector in the case, the oldest boy, now a teenager, wrote that he thought his old family should go to jail for a long time. “They should not be near children again,” he said.
“I never knew until I came to my new family what a normal life is like,” he wrote. “I'm clean and I'm happy and I'm never hungry and not afraid to go to sleep.”
The children's three sets of foster parents wrote lengthy statements in which they outlined the numerous challenges they have encountered in trying to help the children recover from their traumatic early childhood. The three eldest children in particular were happy and relieved they had been believed when the guilty verdicts came in, their foster parents said.
They described how the children arrived with only the clothes on their backs, filthy dirty and covered in faeces with various scars and bruises and no toileting skills.
The eldest boy's foster mother said he had suffered a “horrendous childhood” at the hands of those who should have been loving and caring for him. She said he is now a “beautiful, handsome boy” who they are proud to have in their family.
The foster mother of the girl and second eldest boy listed a long line of health professionals and therapists they have seen and continue to see regularly. She described how they had trouble sleeping for the first two years and suffered from terrible recurring nightmares in which their parents were coming to hurt them.
The foster mother of the two youngest boys outlined the many supports they have needed for their behavioural and medical issues. She described how they were wary and vigilant, despite their young age when they came into her care.
Defence counsel for both parents said their clients suffered from a mild intellectual disability and were on the borderline range of intellectual functioning. Although he maintains his innocence, the father has gained “enormous satisfaction” from learning that his children are now happy, defence counsel said.
The court heard that the mother and her sister will struggle in prison, as there is no dedicated sexual offender unit in the women's prison. The mother is confined to her room for her own safety for most of the day, her defence counsel said.
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The father was found guilty of all 31 counts against him. In relation to the three older children, he was found guilty of six counts of rape, six counts of sexual assault, three counts of permitting other people to engage in sexual activity with a child and three counts of sexually exploiting two of them.
He was also found guilty of 10 counts of wilfully neglecting five of his children and three counts of mistreating three of his children by giving them medication.
The mother was found guilty of all 25 counts against her, including 10 counts of wilful neglect. In relation to the three older children, she was found guilty of sexual assault, permitting other people to engage in sexual activity with a child and sexually exploitation.
The children's aunt was found guilty of all three counts, including two counts of sexually assaulting the girl and one count of sexually assaulting the second oldest boy.
The children's 49-year-old uncle – the husband of their maternal aunt – was found guilty of all 10 counts against him. He was found guilty of sexual assault, sexual exploitation and rape.
The 27-year-old uncle was found guilty of eight of the nine charges against him. He was found guilty of six counts of rape and two counts of sexual exploitation. He was found not guilty of one count of sexually exploiting the girl.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott's sentencing comments on each of the five family members.
Both of the parents engaged in “the most profound breach of trust a human being can commit against their children,” the judge said.
Their 57-year-old father had a “very high level of criminal responsibility” for the 31 offences he was found guilty of committing against his children, which including the rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of his three eldest children as well as permitting others to engage in sexual activity with them. These are offences “of the most horrendous kind”, the judge said.
The father also wilfully neglected his five children and engaged in child cruelty by regularly medicating three of them. “They were very cruelly and badly treated and it was a continuous form of abuse and neglect,” the judge said. “It was cruelty of the most serious kind.”
He, like the other offenders, has no previous convictions and has not come to the attention of gardaí since these offences.
The judge handed down sentences of 15 years for each of the rape counts, five years for the sexual assault counts and four years for the neglect and child cruelty counts.
The judge said that he had considered making the sentences he handed down to each of the five offenders consecutive but concluded that this would result in “wholly disproportionate” sentences for each of them.
The judge said he had also considered suspending part of the sentences handed down, but he noted it was difficult to see how any of the offenders could engage in rehabilitation, given that they continue to reject the jury's verdicts.
The sexual offences the 34-year-old mother committed against her children did, by their nature, fall into the lesser category of seriousness when compared to the acts committed by the children's male relatives, the court heard.
She was found guilty of the sexual assault and sexual exploitation of her three older children, as well as permitting others to have sexual activity with them and wilfully neglecting five of them.
There was some evidence that the abuse “was not primarily driven by her,” which the judge accepted.
But there was a “high level of culpability on her part as the mother of the children,” the judge said. As well as abusing her children, she knew they were being abused by others under her roof. She “witnessed, encouraged or tolerated” this abuse, as well as engaging in the wilful neglect of her children.
The trial heard the woman made admissions to gardaí when arrested in 2018, but she later resiled from these admissions and continues to protest her innocence.
The judge said it seemed to him that the mother was expressing her sorrow and regret for what she had done when she made the admissions to gardaí. These admissions aided the investigation, but lost their value in terms of mitigation when she resiled from them.
The mother has no previous convictions and came from a family home that was marred by violence. There was no evidence of sexual abuse in her childhood, the judge said.
He handed down concurrent sentences of nine years for the sexual exploitation charges, five years for the sexual assault, four years for the child cruelty charges and five years for allowing others to engage in sexual activity with the children.
The mother's 35-year-old sister was found guilty of three counts of sexually abusing two of the children – her niece and nephew. Her level of offending was less serious than the others, but she also had a high degree of moral culpability, the judge said.
“She contributed to the overall pain and suffering (the children) endured,” the judge said. The abuse was “degrading and humiliating”, he said.
The judge noted the aunt was a psychologically vulnerable woman, who is “prone to emotional collapse under pressure”. She married her husband at a young age and is a socially isolated woman.
The judge handed down concurrent three-year sentences for each of the sexual assault counts.
The 49-year-old uncle
The aunt's husband engaged in behaviour that “can only be regarded as depraved and hugely humiliating” for the children, the judge said. He was involved in “exploitative offending of the worst and most sickening kind”.
The court heard that the uncle presented himself to social workers as someone who was trying to help the mother and father to be better parents. This behaviour was “duplicitous”, the judge said.
“This was a man who, while presenting himself convincingly as someone trying to assist social services in helping the parents...was himself during that period engaged in this appalling sexual abuse,” the judge said.
The uncle engaged in the gross betrayal of trust of the child victims. “He has a high degree of responsibility for these offences.”
The man has no previous convictions and a history of mental health issues. The court heard he was hospitalised for a period of three to four years with psychiatric problems, although the judge noted there was no information as to when this occurred or the nature of the prognosis.
He handed down concurrent sentences of 15 years for the rape and sexual exploitation charges and four years for the sexual assault charges.
The 27-year-old uncle
The mother's youngest brother was found guilty of eight of the nine offences against him, including rape and sexual exploitation pertaining to two of the children, his niece and nephew. He was acquitted of one count of sexually assaulting his niece.
This abuse was “horrific” and “part of a series of abusive acts the children were subjected to”, the judge said. They were extremely serious.
Unlike his co-offenders, the man had a significant history of employment. Testimonials were handed in to court describing him as hard-working, honest and reliable. He was involved in sports in the community.
The judge handed down concurrent sentences of 15 years for the rape charges and six years for the sexual exploitation charge.
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