By Declan Brennan A Kerry man has received a suspended prison sentence for the sexual assault of his younger female cousin when he himself was a teenager.
Padraig Tangney Jnr was 16 when he abused his the 13-year-old at his family home in Meadowlands Estate, Tralee, Co Kerry.
Justice Tara Burns said that the non-imposition of a custodial sentence should not be seen by his family, some of whom are standing by him, “as vindication” or as a lessening of the “enormous impact” of his assaults on the victim.
The abuse has deeply scarred the victim, Justice Burns said, noting that Tangney's guilty pleas were of particular value as the victim was an “extremely fragile witness”.
Tangney (39) pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault of a child at Meadowlands Estate on unknown dates in 1995 and 1996. The court heard Tangney stills lives at the family home.
Justice Burns said at the time of offending he was legally a child himself and this had to be considered as one aspect of mitigation. She accepted as genuine the remorse he has expressed and noted that his offending had an effect on himself.
“He made his own hell,” she said. She noted the Probation Service has assessed him at being at a low risk of reoffending and that a large number of testimonials described as “reserved, remorseful and ashamed man”.
She noted the victim was extremely fragile and Tangney's guilty pleas were helpful.
She said due to all these factors “prison is not warranted”. She suspended a two year term of imprisonment on condition he attend counselling for depression and stress management.
The maximum sentence is five years and Tangney is automatically registered as a sex offender, the court heard.
Detective Sergeant Gary Carroll told the Central Criminal Court, sitting in Dublin, that the two families were very close and the victim would often visit the home of her cousin. During one assault the older teenager rubbed his genitals up against the child outside her clothing.
Afterwards he told her not to tell her mother or she “would have a heart attack”. Dt Sgt Carroll said the victim's mother was attending hospital with a heart complaint during this time.
On another occasion Tangney pushed his cousin down on a bed and sexually molested her. She pushed him off but was afraid to tell anyone at the time, the court heard.
She told her mother two years later that her cousin “had been touching her” and this led to a confrontation between the families in which the defendant admitted he “was at her”.
Diana Stuart BL, prosecuting, told the court that the victim was waiving her statutory anonymity.
The court also heard that the victim and her mother went to gardaí in around 1999 but a prosecution was not progressed at this time. The victim emigrated some time later and now lives abroad.
In a victim impact statement she said that the sexual assaults left her crippled with shame and guilt and she began self-harming as a child. She said she stills suffers from flashbacks in which she relives the abuse and the attacks have made relationships more difficult and affected her marriage.
“I shake in fear when I recall what you did to me,” she wrote. She said that she believed at the time it must have been her fault.
In a letter to the victim, read out in court by defence counsel Anthony Sammon SC, the man said he was sorry and he didn't realise at the time the effect his actions would have.
“I was young and made a terrible mistake. I didn't know what I was doing was wrong,” he wrote.
Mr Sammon provided references from relatives of his client which described his client as “a good man who acknowledges his wrong doing”.
One referee said the defendant was “extremely remorseful” and described him as a “caring and loving uncle who we trust and love”.
Counsel asked the court to consider a non-custodial sentence and said it would be “grotesque” and an offence against justice for his client to be incarcerated for his actions as a young boy.
He submitted also that the man is a carer for both his parents.
He said that if the assaults had been reported at the time it might have resulted in a therapeutic response. He said that custody is normally considered the very last resort in child offending.
The court heard that the man entered the guilty pleas on day three of a trial at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Limerick but before any evidence was given.