A Galway man who abused the son of a woman he had met through a dating website has avoided a jail term on condition that he stays away from children for 10 years.
The 45-year-old man, who cannot be identified to protect the identity of the child, met the victim's mother through the website PlentyOfFish. He began exchanging messages and phone calls on a daily basis with her before he befriended her then 10-year-old son on Facebook.
He continued to message the boy suggesting that they travel to Anfield to see a Liverpool game together. He also mentioned kisses, hugs and tickling to the boy.
Garda John Doherty told Fionnuala O'Sullivan BL, prosecuting, that the man travelled to the woman's house in April 2013 and spent the weekend there before he visited the family again the following month.
It was during this second visit that he sexually assaulted the boy after he ended up sleeping in the woman's bed with the child.
He initially denied the charge but pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court the day before his trial to sexual assault at the boy's home in May 2013. He has two previous convictions for theft.
The now 16-year-old did not make a victim impact statement but his mother made one on his behalf, which was read into the record by Ms O'Sullivan. In it, she stated that her son has difficulty trusting males which impacts on his ability to play sports.
She said he never talked about the incident but was very annoyed that it took over five years to be dealt with. She said he looked up to the man, “who did this awful thing and ripped his trust away”.
Judge Melanie Greally had adjourned the case after hearing evidence in February 2019 and placed the man on a 12-month probation bond.
Today, she sentenced him to 12 months in prison which she suspended in full on condition that he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for those 12 months.
Judge Greally imposed a second condition on the man that he have no unsupervised contact with children and that he not be in the immediate vicinity of a creche, school, playground or any private or public amenity where children may congregate, for 10 years.
She warned the man that if he were to break either of these two conditions he would be brought back before her and jailed for a year. The judge commented that she had to “put things in place to make sure the man is not a risk to society”.
Judge Greally said the man showed “an intense and unnatural interest” in the victim and said it was “wholly inappropriate touching”.
She acknowledged that in terms of sexual offending, the crime itself was in the lower range but said it had serious implications for the victim and his mother.
Judge Greally took into account a probation report which outlined that the man has since attended 44 sessions of psychotherapy and is considered to be psychologically vulnerable.
Feargal Kavanagh SC, defending, acknowledged that his client didn't initially accept that he sexually assaulted the boy but said that he now fully accepts what he has done and is remorseful.
Counsel said his client has a history of depression and anxiety and finds it very hard to cope with difficult situations. He has attended a psychologist and although he is vulnerable, he has been assessed and considered to be at a low risk of re-offending.
Gda Doherty said that on the Saturday night of the weekend in May, the woman was attempting to put the children to bed when the man suggested that the victim “jump into Mummy's bed”. This angered the woman as she was trying to get the children to sleep.
She could hear the man laughing with the child and asking him “where are your tickles?”. She was annoyed so remained in another room. She realised the next morning that the man had slept in the same bed as her son.
Gda Doherty said that Sunday the woman found the man lying on a bed with the child stroking his hair. She argued with him about it and he left her home.
The following day the woman got a series of messages from the man including one that stated he was in hospital having made an attempt on his life.
Gda Doherty told Ms O'Sullivan that the woman contacted him and made it clear the relationship was over. She got in touch with his sister to return some of his items to her.
During that week the woman spoke to her son and became worried that he been sexually assaulted. She contacted the gardaí and the child was later interviewed by specialist gardaí.
The child told officers that the man had been cuddling him and telling him he loved him while they were in bed together. He said the man kept putting his hands into his underpants and feeling his penis. He said this happened a few times.
In October 2013, the man met with gardaí and was interviewed. He accepted that he had slept in the same bedroom and suggested he may have accidentally touched the child's genitals while they were playing. He denied that he had touched him inside his underpants.
Gda Doherty said the man left the country before directions were obtained from the Director of Public Prosecutions. He was arrested when he returned to Ireland three years later.