‘Access to child porn too easy’ on phones

A judge has warned that smartphones are making it easier for people to access pornography, including looking at abusive images of children, which he described as journeys into “the dark side of human behaviour”.

Judge James McNulty made his comments as he convicted a Co Cork man for possession of child pornographic images that were found on his iPhone by gardaí. The court also heard there had been “hysteria” in Clonakilty over rumours of a child porn ring operating in the town, despite assurances from both gardaí and the judge that the rumours were unfounded.

In sentencing the man, Martin Hayes, aged 37, from Clonakilty, Co Cork, Judge McNulty warned anyone tempted to explore child pornography, for any reason, that they would face social penalties that exceeded any likely prison sentence.

“We live in changing times where moral codes are sometimes forgotten,” he said at a sitting of Bandon District Court. “The internet and smartphones grant easy access to pornography but there are boundaries and lines that must not be crossed.

“Child pornography involves crossing a boundary into the dark side of human behaviour and journeying into the world of sexual deviancy.”

He said there needed to be a principle of general deterrence to stop others from committing similar offences.

“So for teens on WhatsApp or men on bar stools, they should be able to tell one another that child pornography is dangerous territory,” he said. “Do not go there.

“For those who are immature, or confused, or easily led, or just curious, and for the perverts, there are four things you need to know.

“One — to store or share child pornography is a serious offence; two — chances are you will be detected and prosecuted; three — if convicted there is a real risk that you will spend time in prison; four — there are other serious social consequences for you, in your family, in your community, in your accommodation, even in your employment and your future travel plans and job prospects.”

Hayes, currently of no fixed abode, had pleaded guilty last Tuesday to possession of four child abuse images during a Garda search in March 2017.

Last Tuesday’s sitting of Clonakilty District Court had heard there was no foundation to rumours of a child porn ring in the area, but at yesterday’s court proceedings, Hayes’ solicitor, Plunkett Taaffe, said: “There is a rumour mill out there that is being hysterically dealt with.”

The proceedings were also briefly interrupted by one man who took issue with the publication of Mr Hayes’ old address. He later apologised to the judge and said: “It was not my intention but at the moment with everything that is happening around Clonakilty...”

Judge McNulty said he believed the rumours were “greatly exaggerated”.

Judge James McNulty
Judge James McNulty

“There had been rumours of a child porn ring — they were unfounded,” he said, adding there was “no basis” for connecting Hayes with any separate criminal matters.

Ahead of sentencing, Hayes’ solicitor Mr Taaffe said his client was now ostracised in his community, had lost his job in the hospitality sector, and was now effectively homeless as a result of his offending

Judge McNulty said Hayes, who had no previous convictions, had obtained the images from “an illegal source” and sentenced him to 33 days in prison, with 30 days suspended for two years, alongside Probation Service supervision for one year.

“The court does not consider him to be a threat or a danger to children,” Judge McNulty said, adding that the Probation Service would be able to assist the man’s rehabilitation and ideally help him reintegrate himself back into his native place.

“Mr Hayes is a native of Clonakilty but unfortunately he has to some extent sullied the name of a good town full of decent people,” Judge McNulty said, before adding that in another way the defendant was lucky to be from the town as it was acknowledged as one of the finest places in West Cork and “also a place where people are welcoming, kindly and tolerant”.

The judge said he hoped that Hayes, knowing he had been severely punished, and provided that he did not reoffend, could be accepted back into his community, having made a “bad error of judgement” for which he was paying a heavy price.

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