By Isabel Hayes
A Dublin man who sexually assaulted his stepdaughter's 12-year-old friend while she was having a sleepover in his house has been jailed for one year.
The man, who cannot be named to protect his victim's identity, was found guilty by a jury of one count of sexually assaulting the child at his home address in Dublin on February 14, 2015, following a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial last November.
The court heard the 43-year-old man put his hand under the girl's top while she was asleep in bed beside his daughter.
Sentencing the man today, Judge Cormac Quinn said the sexual assault of a child was a serious matter which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
He said the man engaged in a breach of trust when he committed the offence. “She was on a sleepover, she was supposed to be minded and looked after,” he said of the victim.
At his sentence hearing previously, Garda Colin Fitzpatrick told Antonia Boyle BL, prosecuting, that the girl was having a sleepover at her friend's house on the night in question.
She was asleep in the same bed as her friend when she woke up to find a hand under her vest top and “trying to get under her sports bra”, Ms Boyle said. She initially thought it was her friend before she saw the man lying on the floor beside her bed.
She kicked her friend, who woke up screaming. The man then crawled to the bedroom door, stood and up and said, “What's going on?”, as if he had just walked into the room, the court heard.
The victim then texted her father at 3.30am asking to come home. When her father collected her from her friend's house, the man answered the door wearing his pyjamas.
The girl “sobbed” the whole way home, the court heard. She told her mother what had happened and gardaí were called immediately.
In a victim impact statement read out in court by counsel, the girl, now aged 15, described how she found it extremely difficult going through the trial and being introduced to the criminal justice system at such a young age - “all because he wouldn't own up”.
“The Junior Cert is difficult enough without having to deal with the pressures of court, all because he wouldn't admit what he did to me as well as what he put me through,” the girl said, adding: “To this day, I still don't know why he did what he did.”
She said that for a long time after the offence, she was scared to sleep on her own and didn't want to go anywhere. She said she lost friends as a result, as she found it too difficult to tell them what had happened to her.
The girl described how seeing her former friend in school was a constant reminder of the assault and that she had panic attacks when she saw the man in her local area. She said the assault put great stress on her family and particularly her parents.
“I was worried for them as well as them worrying for me,” she said.
Seamus Clarke SC, defending, said his client had no previous convictions and had never come before the courts before. He said he will most likely lose his job following court proceedings, which will cause hardship for his family.
Mr Clarke said the man had moved out of the family home voluntarily for a period of time, despite Tusla not making any such demands.
The offending was at the lower end of the scale, he submitted, and he urged Judge Quinn to impose a suspended sentence.