Man convicted of sex assault on 12-year-old girl in Donegal

A 26-year-old man, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old schoolgirl in south Co Donegal, has been given a three-year sentence.

Leo Forde had been found guilty by a jury, with a majority 11-to-one verdict at Donegal Circuit Court on June 17 last, of three counts of sex assault on the girl in a school shelter. He was the fifth man to be sentenced for sex crimes against the victim, who is now aged 20.

Forde, an apartment maintenance manager in Limerick but who had been living in Rathnenney, Laghey, Co Donegal, at the time of the offences, had been found guilty of sexual assaults on three consecutive nights in September 2003. He was aged 19 at the time.

Earlier, Judge Gerard Griffin ordered him to be placed on the sex offenders’ register and remanded him in custody until today. Judge Griffin had adjourned the case from Friday last to consider sentencing.

In an impact statement read into court last week, the victim had said that she “felt robbed” of her childhood.”

“I live in hope that I will look back on this day and feel that my pain has been worthwhile,” she had written.” She had also said that at the age of 13 she “just didn’t know how to say no”.

She had said that she had taken drugs and “would take anything that would block out the reality of my life.”

“I hated my life, I wanted to die,” she also wrote in her victim impact statement.

Today Forde, who had 32 previous convictions dating back to 2004, which included public order offences but also discharging a firearm, appeared at the Circuit Court, at the Criminal Courts of Justice complex, in Dublin for sentencing.

Judge Griffin imposed three concurrent three-year sentences with 12 months suspended in each of them.

Forde, who was wearing a black T-shirt and blue jeans, signed his bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for three years and to cooperate with the Probation and Welfare Service following his release.

His victim was not present during the sentencing hearing today, during which Judge Griffin praised the garda investigation and care workers.

“I must commend the actions of Gardaí, in particular, garda Liam Feeney, in detecting these offences at such an early stage,” he said. “And also the victim's care workers and social worker who looked after her so well,” he added.

Judge Griffin said that while in custody Forde needed to get treatment for alcohol addiction and education for his literacy problems. He also said the defendant would need to cooperate with the Probation and Welfare Service following his release to address his problems.

Forde had admitted having sex with the girl, but claimed he believed she was 17 years of age at the time.

However, the jury at Donegal Circuit Court accepted the evidence of the victim and the main investigating officer, garda Liam Feeney, who said the girl was always honest about her age.

During the trial, Judge Griffin had told the jury of 10 men and two women that the main point for them to decide was whom they believed in relation to the issue of the girl’s age.

He said both prosecution and defence agreed that the sex happened when the girl lay on a school-shelter bench after the security lights went out.

During the trial, prosecution counsel Eileen O’Leary had told the jury there was no allegation that the defendant had forced himself on the girl.

Ms O’Leary had also told the jury the girl’s consent to sex could not be a defence because she was under 15 years of age at the time.

Forde, who was already a father of one child at the time of the offences, met the girl in a fast-food cafe with two older girls a few weeks after he had moved back to Ireland from England in 2003.

The jury had been told that the girl played with her friend’s Barbie dolls during the period she was having sex with older men. She also kept a diary of names to check in case she became pregnant.

The proceedings also heard that she had sex 57 times with 22 older men when she was 13.

When the garda investigation began she was placed into care. Garda Feeney had also said that after initial problems the girl made good progress in care.

Four other men have already been sentenced by the courts for sexual assaults of the victim.

One man from Ballyshannon, 34-year-old former Army private Kenneth McDonald, a father of three, was jailed in June last year for two years and three months on four counts of sex assaults on the girl in the south Donegal area.

Last month, Paul Gilmore (aged 30), a part-time DJ, of Lawne Park, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, who had pleaded guilty to three charges of sexual assault of the girl, had his case finalised. The father of three was sentenced to a total of two years' imprisonment with 15 months suspended.

On July 7 last, 25-year-old chef, Ronan Lowther, a father of two, from Mountcharles, Co. Donegal, was given an 18-month term which was suspended for five years.

On July 6 last, Colin Reynolds (aged 27), Highfield, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, was given a suspended 18-month sentence and ordered to be placed on the sex offenders register after admitting a sex assault on the then 12-year-old.

Another man who has denied the offences is due for trial in December.

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