A support group for survivors of sexual abuse has criticised a Court of Appeal decision to reduce the sentence imposed on an 81-year-old former primary school principal, jailed for indecently assaulting 11 of his female pupils.
Commenting on the case of Patrick Barry, who has had his six-year jail term reduced to two by the Court of Appeal, the One in Four organisation said there was a problem with inconsistent sentencing for abuse convictions across the country’s circuit courts.
Barry, of Well Rd, Kilkee, Co Clare, had pleaded not guilty to 67 charges of indecently assaulting 11 women on dates between 1964 and 1985, while they attended Moyasta National School. He was found guilty by a jury of 59 counts of indecent assault and not guilty of the remaining eight counts by direction of the trial judge Judge Gerald Keyes.
Barry was given a sentence of 11 years’ imprisonment, with the final five suspended, by Judge Keyes at Ennis Circuit Criminal Court on November 19, 2014.
The sentence was yesterday reduced by Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan.
“I can only imagine how those 11 women feel tonight,” Maeve Lewis, executive director at One in Four, said following the decision.
“They will have been delighted with his conviction, but going through the trial can be an ordeal for survivors of sexual abuse.”
Speaking on behalf of the Court of Appeal yesterday, Mr Justice Sheehan said the trial judge had erred in locating the gravity of the offending at the starting point of 11 years’ imprisonment.
Mr Justice Sheehan said the trial judge seemed to have held that the absence of remorse was an aggravating factor and, while remorse may be a mitigating factor, the obverse could not be held.
The Court of Appeal considered five years as the appropriate starting point for Barry’s sentence but his advanced age and serious health problems were not such to warrant a wholly suspended sentence.
Bearing in mind his age, health problems and the “significant contribution” he made to his community on retirement, Mr Justice Sheehan said the court would suspend the final three years of the five-year sentence.
Ms Lewis said that health issues should not be taken into account when sentencing is considered.
“The health services available to prisoners match those in the community, it should not be a determination in sentencing,” he said.
Barry was required to enter into his own bond of €1,000 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the suspended period of the sentence.
The court heard he had a release date of May 20, 2019.
Following his successful sentence appeal, he is likely to finish serving his new sentence next spring.
In an unsuccessful appeal against conviction last month, Mr Justice Sheehan said the court was “unable to hold” with the former teacher on any of his 12 grounds of appeal.
Barry had been a teacher in a small, mixed, two-teacher school in rural Co Clare 30 to 50 years ago.
Eleven of his female pupils claimed that when they were in fifth and sixth class they were indecently assaulted by him, the judge said.
The judge said Barry would sit beside the girls at their desks and touch them indecently or call them to the front and make them stand between his legs while he was pressed against them.
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