A father was like a boxer when he suddenly lashed out and punched his 8-year-old daughter in the face, a court has heard.
The man, who cannot be named to protect the identify of the girl, denied a charge of assault causing harm to her at their home in Dublin on a date in 2013. He was convicted after he went on trial before Judge Anthony Halpin at Dublin District Court and sentencing was adjourned until a date in September.
The trial heard the girl and an older sibling moved in with their father and his partner a few years before the assault. However, the girl was closer to his partner whom she began to look on as her mother while she did not bond much with or talk to her father.
The girl gave a statement last year to a garda with special training to interview children.
Giving evidence via videolink the girl, now aged 12, told the court that on the day of the attack her older brother had been looking after her while her stepmother and father had been at work.
The girl said she went to her friend’s house nearby and her brother came to collect her. Her stepmother had come home and was cooking dinner.
The woman was upset the girl was out so late. The child told the court she went out again but didn’t ask for permission. It was about 8pm or 9pm then. She recalled her brother collecting her a second time. She agreed with defence counsel Aoife McNickle that her brother and her stepmother were concerned when she was gone.
Her father was called and came home.
They were standing in a hallway and her stepmother was telling her how she was very disappointed in her. She said her father then punched her in the nose and she was bleeding a lot. She remembered hitting her head against a door and her father stormed out.
She agreed the woman has been like a mother to her but she would not have had much bonding time with her father.
She said after she was hit, her stepmother brought her upstairs and looked after her. “I was crying a lot, I’d got a huge fright, banged my head of the door, I couldn’t walk up the stairs properly,” she said.
She did not need to go to the doctor because her nose was not broken. In cross-examination counsel for the defence asked if it was possible she was mixing up what happened. The girl replied: “I remember because I got punched in the face, I do remember”.
Her brother, who is in his late teens, told the court that when his sister was brought home the first time, there was a little quarrel.
The girl went out again and he and his stepmother searched the area for her. After 10 or 20 minutes he realised she was at the friend’s house and he called there and brought her home again.
He said his stepmother was upset with the girl. His father was called and came in the door and stood in the corridor. He suddenly punched his little sister in the face, the youth said.
“Out of nowhere, I saw him go full fisted and hit her in the face,” he said, adding, that before the blow the man did not look angry or show any facial reaction.
She was afraid and crying hysterically, the brother said.
He agreed his father worked long hours and later he and his sister moved in with the stepmother when she broke up with their father.
The stepmother told the trial that as she was giving out to the girl for going back out, her former partner began snorting and exhaling and suddenly punched or slapped the child. She said the girl had a bleeding nostril and she grabbed and hugged the child before bringing her upstairs. She said she checked her throughout the night to make sure she was breathing okay. “I was horrified, nothing was the same after,” the woman said.
The court heard the woman received a text message from him later in which he said he regretted what he had done.
In cross-examination she said her former partner did not say anything and that “it felt like it was in a boxing ring, he positioned himself and bang, and he looked like he was in danger, like he was in a fight”.
The father did not address the court and showed no emotion after Judge Halpin found him guilty. The judge said he had no doubt the incident happened in the manner described by the girl and he said the accounts of the other witnesses were not hugely different.
The court heard the man, who is in his forties, has no prior criminal convictions and presently has no access to the children but it was hoped they could build a relationship.
Judge Halpin said he was moved by the girl’s evidence and he remarked that it was a very sad case. He said he had the impression that the children’s relationship with the man had foundered.
He adjourned sentencing until a date in September for a probation report on him to be furnished. He hoped the Probation Service could help him reach the complex dynamic of saying sorry, he said.