A 77-year-old paedophile, who lured his six-year-old niece to his home with the promise of biscuits before sexually assaulting her, has walked free from court.
Judge Gerald Keys yesterday imposed a two-year suspended sentence on the west Clare man for the sexual abuse of two nieces.
The judge pointed to exceptional circumstances in the case, including the man’s age, his serious heart condition, and the fact that there were, in essence, only three offences.
At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Keys said he reached his decision “after a lot of consideration and difficulty”.
“It is unusual, I accept, and I hope that is not interpreted by the complainants as a lack of appreciation by this court as to the seriousness of the crimes,” he said.
Judge Keys pointed out that the four guilty counts in relation to the abuse of the man’s two nieces were not sample counts, accepting that there was a question mark as to whether the fourth offence was intentional or not.
Judge Keys pointed out that the Court of Criminal Appeal had last year reduced a six-year prison term he had imposed on former Moyasta NS principal Pat Barry, aged 82, to two-and-a-half years for the systematic abuse of pupils over a long period of time, between 1964 and 1985.
The judge said that he was mindful of that reduction when imposing sentence on the 77-year-old west Clare man yesterday.
He agreed with counsel for the State, Stephen Coughlan, that the only similarity in the two cases was the age of the two accused.
In this case, the west Clare man pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of two of his nieces in the 1990s.
He also pleaded guilty to a fourth count of sexual assault against the younger niece in 2009, when she was aged 23.
The man first sexually assaulted her when she was aged six or seven in 1992 and 1993, and sexually assaulted her sister in 1996/97 when she was aged 14 to 15.
Outlining the aggravating factors in the case, Judge Keys said: “You suggested that both your nieces led you on and that they were promiscuous; you abused both your nieces for your sexual gratification; you used your position as a close family relative to invite your nieces to your house for treats and your lack of appreciation for your wrongdoing.”
Judge Keys said that the mitigating factors in the case were the man’s guilty plea; his expression of regret and remorse; no previous convictions; that he had co-operated with gardaí and made admissions; and that his risk of reoffending is low.
In sentencing the man, Judge Keys said: “Sexual assault is a very serious offence which has a profound effect on both of your nieces and no doubt has caused great upset to both families.
“The seriousness of these offences can’t be ignored and while they don’t come within the higher level of offending for these type of cases, nonetheless, they are serious offences that have an everlasting effect on nieces and families as a whole.”
Judge Keys said the man is at major risk of future heart problems after previously suffering a near-fatal heart attack.
The judge said that the man’s wife and daughter were in court to support him.
Judge Keys told the man that “you have lost your good name and are on the register for sex offenders”.
Mr Coughlan said that in Garda interviews, the accused had tried to put the blame on his two young female nieces for the sexual abuse that occurred.
Mr Coughlan said: “It was the uncle’s view that it wasn’t his fault, that the children were the ones who were responsible for all of this — that they egged him on.”
He said: “At one stage, the uncle told gardaí ‘they were the boldest nieces anyone could have’ and by that, I think he meant that they were someway promiscuous and that they put him in a very difficult position.”
The man was asked by gardaí at one stage of the interviews, in relation to the first victim, that “you hurt her, didn’t you?”. He replied: “Was she pregnant?”
In relation to the sex assault on the niece aged 14 to 15 at the time, the man told gardaí that he knew he was doing wrong “but she offered it herself. I thought she wanted to have business with me”.
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