An ill and infirm Patrick O’Brien, who subjected his daughter Fiona Doyle to shocking torture over a number of years, cannot be treated as a person for whom a prison sentence would be impossible to tolerate, the Court of Appeal has stated.
The 75-year-old had pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to 16 sample counts of rape and indecent assault committed against his daughter Ms Doyle at Mackintosh Park, Pottery Road in Dun Laoghaire between 1973 to 1982.
Trial judge Mr Justice Paul Carney had described it as one of the worst cases of abuse one could possibly find.
Mr Justice Carney, taking into account O’Brien’s health problems, sentenced him to 12 years in prison, suspended the final nine and granted him continuing bail pending an appeal. Bail was taken from him a few days later, the court heard.
Last month, the Court of Appeal found that O’Brien’s sentence was unduly lenient.
In a judgment outlining its reasons for reaching that decision, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan said yesterday there was no rule which prevents those who are ill from being sent to prison.
O’Brien has been suffering from a number of serious illnesses with painful and unpleasant symptoms and with significant disabilities, Mr Justice Ryan stated.
“But the evidence before the trial was that he would be as well treated in prison as in the community.”
The point, therefore, is that O’Brien is entitled to such mitigation as his health condition warrants but “he cannot be treated as a person for whom a prison sentence would be impossible to tolerate”.
The judgment stated: “Similarly advanced age is relevant but not in any way a bar to a custodial penalty.”
Frances Nagle O’Connor, of the Irish Prison Service, had given evidence that prison authorities would be able to deal with the list of ailments from which the respondent was suffering, the judgment stated.
Under cross-examination, Ms Nagle O’Connor was clear that the care provided by the Prison Service would match that which could be provided in the community. She had pointed out that the previous week a person in prison had suffered a major heart attack and was very successfully treated within the prison setting.
It was clear Mr Justice Carney had located the level of offending at the highest possible category “and this court endorses that view”.
O’Brien’s 12-year sentence was “entirely unobjectionable and indeed a more severe sentence could hardly have been considered inappropriate”.
It was clear, the judgment stated, that Mr Justice Carney was “extremely uneasy” about the allowance that he ought to make for O’Brien’s medical conditions. “He said so on a number of occasions.”
However, the approach adopted by Mr Justice Carney was “an error in principle” and the sentence, “insofar as it directed the suspension of nine years, was unduly lenient,” Mr Justice Ryan, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, stated.
“The torture that the child suffered is truly shocking,” the judgment stated.
The abuse began on the night before Ms Doyle made her first Holy Communion when O’Brien had sexual intercourse with her.
Over the next nine years the abuse continued regularly and frequently so that it became routine.
The mother would go out at night and to play bingo leaving her daughter at home with O’Brien, who raped and indecently assaulted her.
It was a nightly occurrence for him to rape her while watching television and the other children were in bed.
The assaults were not confined to the family home and took place in other locations, such as in woods or a car park or in the home of a family friend. O’Brien would collect Ms Doyle from school at lunchtime and bring her home to rape her while the mother was out at work.
The abuse included various categories of rape.
Ms Doyle required hospital treatment when she was aged 12 which was “unfortunately” not recognised by the hospital as an indication of sexual activity.
She was beaten and lived in a culture of fear.
The family decided to relocate to England in 1982 but she was made to stay in Ireland with O’Brien who moved into the mother’s bed and continued to rape her nightly. The abuse continued until she was 16.
Counsel for O’Brien, Mary Rose Gearty SC, had submitted to Mr Justice Carney her client was of infirm health and of advanced age.
Ms Gearty said O’Brien’s list of ailments included arthritis, he wears a morphine patch all the time and he falls regularly, perhaps twice or three times a week.
He was suffering at the time of sentence from cracked or broken ribs due to the most recent fall and had been hospitalised as recently as the previous week. He had a heart condition, obstructive airway and lung problems, he remained indoors and only left home by ambulance or private car when there was an emergency.
Ms Gearty mentioned gastritis, hernia and other matters. His diet was necessarily limited, he was being treated for heart disease and he had difficulties with emphysema in addition to the arthritis already mentioned. Finally she mentioned that O’Brien was on oxygen, that he has a tank that is switched on overnight.
The Court of Appeal will hold a hearing next Monday to determine O’Brien’s new sentence. He remains in custody and was present to hear the Court outline its reasons yesterday for finding his sentence too lenient.
‘His age and health weren’t an issue when he was abusing me’
Fiona Doyle, pictured in 2013. Picture: PA
In a powerful impact statement into the court, Fiona Doyle described the terrible trauma she underwent at the hands of her father and her feelings of despair and how she believed that she deserved everything she got.
She felt she was a helpless pawn in an evil marriage, had attempted suicide on two occasions, one of them requiring intensive care, and her capacity for forming human relationships was destroyed.
She has described the relief to a degree by the court process and the fact that she had been vindicated.
Speaking outside the court, Ms Doyle said: “Age and health weren’t an issue when he was abusing me and it should not be an issue now.
“I am relieved there was no issues brought up in regard to the first victim statement. I had written a second one and it was very to-the-point and very graphic, but I did not want to read it out if I didn’t have to,” she said.
Ms Doyle said there were too many paedophiles trying to use age or infirmity as a “cop out”.
“His age and health were not an issue when he was abusing me so I don’t know why it should be an issue now,” she said. “I know my father better than anyone and I know a lot of his ailments and his condition were well exaggerated as it has been all my life. My parents were experts at exaggerating stuff like that.”
She said the court’s finding gave hope to other victims “and also, I suppose, despair to other paedophiles out there that I hope will always be looking over their shoulder, that us survivors — they have made us the adults we are today”.
“We have had to fight all our lives and battle to get through all our lives,” she said. “They made us the strong people that we are. You might think you have got away with it but always be looking over your shoulder because one day your victim will find their voice and come forward.”
Ms Doyle said the initial sentence handed down to her father was very lenient.
“He was due for release in April,” she said. “He would have served two years and three months which is very unbalanced compared to the effects abuse has on the victim’s life. I am still in counselling, I still battle flashbacks, I still battle nightmares and I still battle certain issues. That will go on for the rest of my life…
“I hope it sets a precedent that the legal system will work for other victims in the future.”
Ms Doyle said there things a victim can do to make life “easier and liveable”.
“Go through the courts, see your abuser go to jail and then make sure they get a proper sentence and not be afraid to appeal what they do get,” she said. “Without the publicity and the support of the public I had in the initial sentence, I probably would not be here today. I was on the verge of really, really crumbling. It was the media’s attention, the public’s support that gave me the kick in the backside I needed to get back and fight it.”
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