The Court of Criminal Appeal has upheld the 10-year sentence handed down to a former soldier who repeatedly raped a 12-year-old girl over a four-year period.
The court ruled today that there was no error in principle in the imposition of a 10-year jail term on retired army private Thomas Cunningham (aged 43), having taking in to account the number and quality of all aggravating and mitigating factors in the case.
In November last year Cunningham, with a last address at Dominick Street, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to nine sample charges of raping the girl between May 1, 2002 and June 30, 2006.
The victim told gardai that she wanted Cunningham’s name to be published but requested that her identity be protected.
Counsel for the applicant, Mr Giollaiosa O Lideadha SC, had submitted that Mr Justice Paul Carney had erred in failing to suspend any part of the 10-year sentence, and did not give due regard to Cunningham’s immediate admissions which spared his victim the trauma of giving evidence in court.
Mr O Lideadha said that it was a “matter of public interest” and of “great importance” that other men that have done “evil” be incentivised to admit their offending.
He told the court that current literature, research and the “consciousness of the public domain” repeatedly focused on how there was a disincentive for victims of sexual abuse to come forward with allegations because of the trauma of the investigative process and trial.
Mr Vincent Heneghan BL, for the State, submitted that the trial judge had weighed each of the aggravating and mitigating factors carefully.
He said that this was a very serious case which involved the repeated rape of a minor over a four-year period.
Mr Heneghan said that Mr Justice Carney had imposed an eigh-year post-release supervision order on Cunningham which went “hand in hand” with his 10-year custodial term and offered scope for rehabilitation.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan, sitting with Mr Justice Daniel Herbert Ms Justice Mary Irvine , said that Judge had begun with a starting point of a 15-year jail term and appropriately allowed a discount of one third for all mitigating factors, which was “well within” the appropriate range of allowances.