Garda convicted of possessing images and videos of children being sexually abused brings appeal

Garda convicted of possessing images and videos of children being sexually abused brings appeal
Joseph O'Connor. Photo: Collins Courts

A garda convicted of possessing images and videos of children being subjected to sexual abuse must wait to hear the outcome of an appeal against his conviction.

Joseph O'Connor (58) of west Dublin had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to five counts of possessing child pornography at his home on dates between July 30 and August 2, 2011.

In August 2011, gardaí went to his home on foot of an allegation of assault made against him and seized evidence including a laptop.

A subsequent analysis of the laptop found videos in the computer's “recycle bin” depicting boys as young as ten being sexually abused.

Two videos depicted boys under 17 being abused by a male adult. There were also multiple copies of 16 different images of children sexually exposed or being subjected to sexual abuse with other children.

O’Connor was acquitted on one count, but found guilty on all other counts by a jury, before being sentenced to two years imprisonment by Judge Elma Sheahan on February 15, 2019.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that O'Connor had been a garda for 25 years before his suspension from duty in 2012. He continues to maintain his innocence, claiming that he had never seen the material before and that another man, who came to his home for sex days earlier, had corrupted his computer.

O’Connor moved to appeal his conviction in the Court of Appeal today where judgment was reserved.

His barrister, Seamus Clarke SC, submitted that the trial judge erred in her rulings and directions to the jury.

Joseph O'Connor at a previous court sitting
Joseph O'Connor at a previous court sitting

Mr Clarke said O’Connor’s lawyers were denied the chance to run a legitimate line of defence, due to the recent death of a detective inspector. The defence wished to cross examine the detective inspector on the basis that O’Connor’s home was initially searched on foot of an assault allegation “the gardaí didn’t believe” and was therefore unlawful.

Furthermore, Mr Clarke said the material could have gotten onto O’Connor’s computer without any act on his client’s part. He submitted that the prosecution failed to establish that O’Connor knowingly possessed the material and knowingly deleted some of it from his laptop.

Mr Clarke said the foreman of the jury had asked the trial judge to clarify whether possession of an image was illegal, if you did not know you had it. In response, Mr Clarke said the trial judge repeated what she had already told the jury when the trial judge should have given a direct answer.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alice Fawsitt SC, said it was for the jury to decide whether O’Connor knowingly possessed the material.

In that regard, Ms Fawsitt said there was extensive evidence from Garda Janette Walsh on how the material got onto the computer, and how some of it was deleted.

She said the deletion was not automatic. The evidence was that a person could set up their computer to delete material over a period of time which was “not an automatic thing”. It was a “deliberate action” by a person that material would be set up to be deleted over a period of time.

Ms Fawsitt said it was wrong to suggest there was any ulterior motive for the initial search of O’Connor’s home.

The person who had made the assault allegation against O’Connor was deceased by the time of the trial, the court heard.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the court would reserve its judgment.

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