Laois man jailed for rape and sexual assault of young girl

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A 54-year-old Laois man has been given a nine-year sentence

A horse trader and convicted rapist from Laois has been sentenced to nine years in prison for the rape of a young girl who came to work with him because she dreamed of becoming a vet.

The now 41-year-old woman told the Central Criminal Court that John Phelan (54) changed the entire path of her life when she took a summer job with him looking after animals on local farms.

The woman, who waived her anonymity so that Phelan could be named, said the job she had taken hoping to prepare for her future, instead led to the end of her dreams.

Phelan of Kilbricken, Mountrath, Co Laois pleaded guilty to four charges of sexual assault and two of raping the woman when she was aged between 14 and 16 years at various locations in Laois, including at his home, on dates between 1992 and 1993.

He entered the pleas after the trial had commenced and the woman had given her direct evidence, but before she underwent cross-examination.

Phelan, a married father-of-two, served a seven year sentence from 2008 for raping and sexually abusing a young girl in 1989 and 1990 when she was between nine and 11 years old.

Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy had adjourned sentencing after hearing the evidence last July.

She noted that Phelan had previously lied during “A better lives programme” he participated in while serving the Central Criminal Court sentence. He claimed he had not engaged in “a sexual deviant lifestyle” since 1990 which the judge said was “simply not true”.

The report concluded that Phelan did not demonstrate “a sexual preference for minors” and he was released in 2013 under post release supervision. It was during this period that Phelan came under investigation for this case.

Ms Justice Murphy said a current probation report before the court stated that the officer found it “difficult to accept Phelan's assertion” that he didn't have a sexual preference for under age girls.


The judge made reference to the victim impact statement saying that the woman had commented on the “randomness of life” and how Phelan's abuse of her changed the entire course of her life.

“He took from her, her innocence, her virginity and her dreams of becoming a vet,” the judge said.

“He groomed and manipulated her into submitting,” Ms Justice Murphy said adding that Phelan “sent her out damaged into the world”.

She described the abuse as “calculated and exploitative” and said that some of the offences occurred when his wife was pregnant with twins and that Phelan had raped her in his marital bed.

Ms Justice Murphy said that she felt it was most likely that Phelan pleaded guilty after hearing the victim's “strong” evidence because “he sought to rescue what he could from the wreckage”.

She acknowledged that a plea of guilty, no matter how late in the process, validated the victim and confirmed to the world that she was telling the truth.

Ms Justice Murphy sentenced Phelan to nine years in prison with the final 18 months suspended. She ordered that Phelan serve three year post release supervision.

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At the sentence hearing last July, Garda Michael Kennelly told Patrick McGrath SC, prosecuting, that Phelan's young neighbour had an interest in animals and asked if she could work with him during school holidays in 1992.

After the first few days, Phelan began asking the then 14-year-old personal questions about her boyfriend that made her uncomfortable. This progressed to kissing, fondling her breasts and digital penetration.

Gda Kennelly said although the teenager was embarrassed and uncomfortable, she didn't want to lose her job.

The garda told Mr McGrath that on one occasion Phelan told the girl to bring swimwear so they could go swimming. The one-piece she wore that time made it difficult for Phelan to grope her so she wore it on subsequent occasions to offer her some sort of protection.

The garda said Phelan was almost caught molesting the girl by his wife and a local premises owner and this gave him “a thrill”.

The court heard that from mid July 1992 Phelan raped the teenager on two occasions. The first time was at a farm Phelan had been looking after and the second time was in an animal feed room at a derelict cottage.

Phelan told the girl to relax when she found the second attack extremely painful. He assured her it would “get easier after a while”.

The woman didn't tell anyone about the offences because she was scared and Phelan was her neighbour.

In her victim impact statement, which she read in court, the woman said when she heard Phelan was out of prison she asked herself how she could “protect him with my silence and feelings of guilt and shame”.

She said too many people had been impacted by Phelan's “selfish and cruel twisted desires”.

The woman revealed that she had always considered herself a strong person but despite all her “bravado” she eventually had to seek help for depression. She said a deep mistrust in men had been ingrained in her and she lost the bond with her father for life.

She described being constantly on alert around young girls because her own parents missed the signs of her abuse. She told the court she dreaded writing a victim impact statement as she is not a victim, but a survivor.

The woman paid tribute to Gda Kennelly, who “became my guardian angel and friend for life”.

“Without his true kind manner and unending patience, I could not do what was needed”, she said, commending the garda's professionalism over the four years dealing with the case.

She also thanked the Tullamore Rape Crisis Centre, other gardaí on the investigation team, the DPP and her friends and family.

Gda Kennelly agreed with John Peart SC, defending, that Phelan had worked throughout his life. The garda accepted that Phelan attended and completed a sex offenders course while in prison.

The garda further accepted that Phelan made a full expression of remorse to his probation officer.