By Isabel Hayes
A retired senior civil servant in the Department of Health and Children, who was caught in possession of nearly 60,000 child pornography images and videos, has avoided jail.
Brendan Phelan (66) was given a suspended three-year sentence in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today after he pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography at his home on March 26, 2013.
Phelan, with an address in Merrion Grove, Stillorgan Road, Blackrock, Co Dublin, admitted to gardaí that he had a “fair bit” of child pornography relating to young boys when his home was raided five years ago.
He is a retired principal officer with the Department of Health and Children, the court heard.
Most of the images and clips were “naturist”, the court heard, but others showed pre-pubescent boys engaged in sexual behaviour.
Sentencing Phelan, Judge Martin Nolan noted that there was an “unfortunate delay” in bringing the case to court due to a lack of resources within the garda unit. As a result, Phelan was only charged last year.
Since his home was raided in 2013, he has attended counselling and rehabilitated himself, with a report handed into court showing he is at a low risk of re-offending.
Handing down the suspended sentence, Judge Nolan said the conviction would bring shame on Phelan and his family. He noted he would be on the sex offenders register.
The judge took into account a number of mitigating factors, including the nature of the images - the majority of which were placed in the lowest category of seriousness by gardaí - his cooperation and the fact that Phelan did not produce or distribute the material elsewhere.
Garda Peter Woods told Eoin Lawlor BL, prosecuting, that gardaí received a tip-off from Canadian officials in relation to clients who had bought child porn from a website under their investigation.
As a result, gardaí raided Phelan's home in March 2013, where they seized his computer, a laptop and five external hard drives, among other equipment. A suitcase of DVDs found in Phelan's bedroom was also seized.
When the material was eventually examined four years later, gardaí discovered 58,585 child pornography images and 1,046 movies.
The majority of these files were “naturist” and concentrated on young boys' genitalia, Garda Woods said. Others were of a more serious nature.
Phelan readily admitted to gardaí that he had started looking at child pornography “a long time ago”.
He has no previous convictions.
Defence counsel, Philipp Rahn BL, said his client referred himself to psychological services in the aftermath of the garda raid. He has now rehabilitated.
Mr Rahn said his client, who is originally from a large family in Waterford, went to university and had a good career. He said Phelan does not appear to have had any romantic or sexual relationships throughout his life.
Phelan is extremely remorseful for his behaviour. He used the images only for himself and did not produce any or send them on to anyone else, defence counsel added.