“I’m not a victim any more, I’m now a survivor and that makes all the difference.”
That was how Fiona Doyle reacted after her father, Patrick O’Brien, was sentenced to 12 years in prison with the final three suspended, following a finding by the Court of Appeal that his original sentence was too lenient.
Asked if she felt justice had finally been served, Ms Doyle said: “Yes, big time.
“It’s been a long road, it’s been hard, it’s had its ups and downs, but we got through it.”
She told reporters after yesterday’s hearing: “Can you see my face? Isn’t it so different to two years ago? This is two years of counselling, two years of sorting my head out and getting on the right path. I am delighted.”
O’Brien, 74, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, with the final three suspended, for raping his daughter. The Court of Appeal that his original sentence had been too lenient. He had pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to 16 sample counts of rape and indecent assault of his daughter at Mackintosh Park, Pottery Rd, Dun Laoghaire in the 1970s and 80s.
On January 21, 2013, sentencing judge Mr Justice Paul Carney described O’Brien’s abuse of his daughter as one of the worst cases one could find.
Taking account of his health problems, Mr Justice Carney sentenced O’Brien to 12 years in prison, suspended the final nine years, and granted him continuing bail pending an appeal. However, bail was taken from him a few days later following a media outcry.
Following a review of his sentence, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan, , who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, yesterday said the appropriate sentence for O’Brien was “indeed 12 years but the period of suspension ought to be three years”.
The court stated last week that, despite serious illness and advanced age, O’Brien cannot be considered a person for whom prison would be “impossible to tolerate”.
Counsel for O’Brien, Mary Rose Gearty SC, submitted during a short sentencing hearing yesterday that the single most important factor for the court to consider was the plea of guilty entered by O’Brien.
She said a plea of guilty in a very hard case without corroboration must attract significant mitigation in terms of the sentence imposed. Otherwise, there was no incentive for a person accused of such a crime to enter a plea of guilty.
“That would be a disaster, not just for the victims of abuse but also for the system,” Ms Gearty said.
“Why bother” pleading guilty, Ms Gearty said, “if there’s no reduction in the sentence”, adding that a few years made little difference if one was looking at a sentence of 12 years.
Ms Gearty further submitted that the vindication given to abuse victims in such cases was different to convictions by jury and in cases where perpetrators protested their innocence.
Where there have been pleas of guilty, she said, abusers accept responsibility and publicly state their victims are telling the truth.
Ms Gearty asked the court to “seriously consider” the kind of incentive on offer to somebody in that position.
Mr Justice Ryan said the three relevant matters were O’Brien’s age, his health conditions, and what Ms Gearty said were the stand-out features of his guilty plea.
He said the court accepted Ms Gearty’s points about pleas of guilty in cases such as this, that it was the most important feature of the case and, on its own, was of particular value.
Mr Justice Ryan said guilty pleas arose where an accused accepted responsibility of their crimes and they were particularly important in cases of historic sexual abuse.
Sometimes the experience of victims was that, “abused as children”, they were “disbelieved as adults”, Mr Justice Ryan said, and a plea of guilty removed one of those potential wrongs.
It was right to acknowledge the plea of guilty in this case and it was indeed acknowledged by Ms Doyle in her powerful victim impact statement to the sentencing judge, Mr Justice Ryan said.
Before making its decision, Mr Justice Ryan said the court wished to observe that if O’Brien’s health deteriorated there was a power held by the executive to take account of that and make necessary arrangements, including the power of remission.
The new sentence was imposed “on the same conditions” to commence from the same date.
O’Brien, who appeared in court with the assistance of a mobility aid, remained seated while he entered into his own bond of €100 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour from the date of his release.
READ MORE: Court of Appeal triples jail sentence for rapist father Patrick O'Brien