Sharon Hennessy and her family smiled through tears as they left court 13 of the Criminal Courts of Justice for the last time.
It was the final chapter in a nightmare which began three years earlier, just metres from the house she shared with her twin sister Michelle.
Sharon knew her sister as a bubbly, outgoing adventurer who never had a bad word to say about anyone.
Michelle had two passions, travelling the world and skydiving. A member of the Irish Skydiving Club, she had performed over 600 jumps and held several world records.
Then, one night in Jan 2011, Michelle met an 18-year-old Sean Thackaberry as she was coming home from a night out. She did not know Thackaberry but had seen him a few times around the town and consented to him walking her the short distance to her house.
We only have a vague idea of what happened next but, according to Sharon, Michelle was never the same afterwards.
Her physical injuries healed but her sister noticed the rest of her recovery was slower. She became afraid to leave the house on her own and was especially terrified to go into Kildare Town at night in case she ran into Thackaberry, who was out on bail.
She gave up skydiving temporarily but started back again and took comfort in the activity. “She said she felt more comfortable in the air than on the ground,” said Sharon.
The court heard that in the months before Michelle took her own life, she reported feeling bullied and intimidated by people in the town in connection with the attack. Speaking of her sister’s suicide, Sharon believes the attack was a direct cause: “She would see him in town and she would be scared stiff. It was only when he went into jail on other charges that she was able to relax a bit.”
Yesterday, Sharon and the rest of her family took comfort in the fact that her attacker is now behind bars, even for a relatively short time. With remission, Thackaberry will be out in less than four years.
“Today, Michelle finally got her justice, it’s just a shame she is not here to see it herself. She can now rest in peace knowing justice has been done for her,” said Sharon.
With no victim to give evidence at a trial, bringing Thackaberry to court was always going to be a challenge. The DPP had the benefit of his limited admissions and a DNA match but without Michelle’s testimony it would be hard to prove exactly what happened to her that night.
Thackaberry was originally charged with rape but when his legal team offered a plea to the lesser charge of aggravated sexual assault, the prosecution decided to play it safe and accept.
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