The Court of Criminal Appeal has reserved judgement in the case of a convicted armed robber appealing against his life sentence for the rape and sexual abuse of a young girl over an eight-year period.
Christopher Griffin (aged 41) was jailed for life by Mr Justice Paul Carney in April 2007, after a Central Criminal Court jury found him guilty of one count of the oral rape of the victim in 1998, one count of rape in 2001 and nine counts of indecently assaulting her on dates between 1993 and 1998.
The victim, who was aged between eight and sixteen when the abuse took place, consented to having Griffin named in media reports of the trial.
Griffin, with a last address at Ridgewood Green, Swords had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. He lost an appeal against his conviction at the CCA on June 22nd, 2009.
Counsel for Griffin, Mr Michael O'Higgins SC, said that although this was a case of an “appalling nature” Mr Justice Carney had erred “very substantially” in imposing a life sentence as “nowhere on the facts” outlined did it warrant such a term.
He said that the abuse did not involve any overt threats or acts of violence, that Griffin appeared to have provided financial support for the victim and that there was no suggestion that he was “hovering over” her as a threatening figure.
Mr O’Higgins said that Mr Justice Carney erred in describing the list of 18 previous convictions amassed by Griffin as “horrendous” in circumstances where many of them were summarily dealt with in the District Court.
The court heard that Griffin had previously received nine and three-year prison sentences in 1987 for robbery, and six years in 1986 for firearms offences, including possession of guns and ammunition.
He also had convictions for larceny and road traffic offences including dangerous driving.
Mr O’Higgins told the court that of Griffin’s 18 previous convictions, 13 were summary offences committed when he was a child, and that the sentencing judge should have attached a “significantly lesser” weight to these.
He said both the trial and the sentence hearing took place in a “charged atmosphere” in the remand court beside Cloverhill prison because of events happening in the north inner city area.
Mr O’Higgins told the court that evidence went before the sentence hearing of a number of serious incidents which occurred during the trial, including two fatal shootings and episodes where firearms and grenades had been used by opposing factions to intimidate each other.
He said that these included the fatal shootings of Gerard Byrne in the Financial Services Centre on December 13, 2006 and of Stephen Ledden in his own house on Oriel Street on December 27, 2006.
Mr O’Higgins said that Mr Justice Carney also heard evidence that five shots were discharged through the front sitting-room window of Griffin’s home in Swords on October 7, 2005, one of which struck him in the elbow.
Grenades were also thrown in to the garden of Griffins home and a house in Finglas on November 6, 2006.
He said the fact that Mr Justice Carney had remarked that he did not consider evidence of such matters “at all extraneous” should have set “alarm bells ringing” as it appeared these “extra-curricular activities” were going to feed in to the offence.
Mr O’Higgins said it was clear that some of the happenings outside of the trial were being visited upon Griffin and this amounted to an error in principle.
Counsel for the State, Ms Deirdre Murphy SC, told the court that the evidence was that the abuse started off at the “grooming” stage and moved on to repeated sexual assaults of a young girl over an eight-year period.
She submitted that there were no mitigating factors in the case, as Griffin did not cooperate with gardaí, did not submit to psychological assessment and continued to deny the offences.
Ms Murphy said that the sentencing judge had taken in to account not merely the nature of the offences but the man who had committed them, and the appeal court should be slow to interfere in a trial judge’s discretion to impose a life sentence.
She said that Mr Justice Carney did not sentence Griffin having regard to extraneous circumstances but rather paid heed to the real-life issues affecting the trial.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, sitting with Mr Justice Declan Budd and Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, said the court would reserve its judgement.