A 39-year-old mother has been sentenced to four-and-a half years in prison with the final six months suspended for beating, starving and neglecting seven of her children over five years, often leaving them for days in the care of strange men, one of whom was a paedophile.
The woman, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the children, who are now aged five to 19, was found guilty in January following a nine-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court of 29 charges of child cruelty and neglect at six locations between September 1, 2006, and May 12, 2011.
Charges relating to an eighth child were withdrawn from the jury at the end of the trial.
Four of the woman’s eldest children were in court for the sentence hearing, accompanied by their various foster families and care workers.
They sat together at the back of the courtroom, crying at times, while their mother sat a short distance away in front of them.
Afterwards she was led away in handcuffs from the courtroom a short time later, her children hugging each other and their carers.
The woman’s former partner, aged 48, who fathered two of the woman’s younger children and who cannot be identified either, was given sentences ranging from two years to six months, which were all suspended. He had initially been jointly charged with the woman with 42 counts of cruelty and neglect but pleaded guilty to five of the charges last December.
In their victim impact statements, read to the court last week, the children thanked the man for being nice to them. He had often gone into the children’s room and told them he had to pretend to beat them to placate their mother.
He had apologised to the children and thanked their foster parents last week for taking such good care of them now.
The children chatted to him prior to his sentence hearing today and they hugged him in turn afterwards the sentences were suspended.
Imposing various concurrent sentences, ranging from one year to four-and-a-half years on their mother earlier on all 29 charges, Judge Karen O’Connor said of particular concern to the court was the fact the children had remained “under the radar” of the authorities for so long.
The trial in January had heard the children had first come to the attention of social workers in 2006, and while social services liaised with the family in the interim, the children were not taken into care until May, 2011.
Judge O’Connor said the mother’s attempts to blame her eldest daughter for her offending behaviour, and that all of the children were traumatised at witnessing incidents of violence against their siblings over the five-year period, were also disturbing factors in the case.
She referred to psychological reports on the children, which had indicated they had all suffered enormously, particularly one of the boys, at having to attend their mother’s trial and give evidence against her.
“A common theme too, is the children’s great sadness of being separated from each other and the family link being broken.
“The youngest child was 13 months old when taken into care and the older sister who cared for the younger ones was deeply traumatised. It’s clear from the victim impact reports that a plea would have helped the children,” Judge O’Connor noted.
“The cumulative effect of the offending has been more damaging to the children. Neighbours were concerned and they have to be commended for their efforts in looking out for the children.
“Two of the women fed and clothed the children. One woman reported her concerns to social services. Another neighbour, a man also rang social services,” the judge said.
“It’s of concern to the court that the children remained under the radar of the authorities for so long
,” Judge O’Connor said. She commended the children and described them as “resilient, impressive young people”.
Noting the maximum sentence for each offence was seven years, Judge O’Connor said the level of offending for the mother was above the medium level in the scale of gravity.
Judge O’Connor wished the children, particularly the two eldest girls “the very best” for the future.
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