A Louth man “hounded” by the media for repeatedly being caught with child pornography, according to his lawyers, has had his prison sentence cut on appeal.
Barry Watters (43) pleaded guilty to public indecency, when he exposed himself to a number of children on their way to school in Dublin, over two days, in December 2014. He also pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography at Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, on October 20, 2016.
Watters, originally from Dundalk, Co Louth, and previously of Infirmary Road, in Dublin, has been given several sentences over the past decade for possession of child porn.
In 2008, he was given a fully suspended two-and-a-half year sentence for possession of child porn, which was subsequently reactivated. He was given a separate three year sentence in 2010 and another four year sentence with the final year suspended, which was subsequently reactivated, in 2012.
He was caught for the most recent child porn offence when gardaí spotted him entering an internet cafe and were able to remotely monitor what he was viewing on the computer. He had a USB stick which contained 17 images of boys and girls engaged in sexual activity and 6 images of children with their genitalia exposed.
Watters was given consecutive sentences totalling seven years imprisonment with the final year suspended by Judge Martina Baxter on December 7, 2018.
He successfully appealed the severity of his sentence today with the Court of Appeal holding that it was not appropriate for the judge to impose the maximum sentence for both offences - two years for indecency and five years for possession of child porn, albeit with the final year suspended.
He was accordingly resentenced to five years and eight months imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended, on strict conditions.
Counsel for Watters, Paul Carroll SC, said it was wrong in law for the sentencing judge to have imposed two maximum sentences, made consecutive to one another.
Mr Carroll said Watters had never come to garda attention until the age of 32, and his life had gone “progressively off the rails” after 2008.
The court heard Watters had been made homeless a number of times after the media drew attention to where he was living.
His other barrister, James McCullough BL, told the court that for the last 11 years of his life, Watters had effectively been “exiled” from his hometown of Dundalk and is “on a circuit of hostels, and shelters, hounded by the media”.
Mr McCullough said Watters was followed every place he goes, the media are told and he's evicted.
He said the offences were an addiction triggered by crisis points in his life and Watters was known to do well when he was able to settle down, under the supervision of the probation services.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Dara Hayes BL, said the child pornography offence wouldn’t attract a sentence anywhere near the one imposed on Watters, had it been a first offence.
But it wasn’t a first offence, it was Watters’ fourth offence for this specific crime. He said Watters had had regimes at liberty under supervision but he has continued to offend.
Mr Hayes said there was a clear “progression” from sitting behind a computer screen to going out onto the street and interacting with children.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the incidents of public indecency were “very serious” but the court considered the imposition of the maximum sentence was not appropriate. The court imposed 20 months instead.
So far as the child porn was concerned, Mr Justice Birmingham said the quantity and the nature of the material would not ordinarily lead to the maximum sentence being considered. He said the “striking feature” was the fact Watters had a number of previous convictions for similar offences.
Even in Watters’ circumstances, the judge said four years was the appropriate starting point, rather than five, and the court suspended the final 18 months.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Ms Justice Máire Whelan, said the court was conscious that Watters had been given part suspended sentences previously, which were subsequently reactivated.
He said there were 11 conditions attached to the suspended sentence, which “offered some hope that they will provide a degree of structure and supervision and discourage further offending”.
Watters said he agreed to be of good behaviour, to place himself under the supervision of the probation service for 18 months post release, to attend all meetings with the probation service and participate fully in their risk assessment, to attend any group or individual sex offenders program, to not have any contact directly or indirectly with young children, to not attend internet cafes and not use any internet enabled device unless authorised by the probation service.
Mr Justice Birmingham told Watters that if he didn’t comply with the conditions of the suspended sentence, he would be required to serve extra time in prison.