A man who walked up to two toddlers as they sat in a buggy outside their house and burnt one of their faces with a mini blowtorch has been jailed for 20 months.
The little boys were strapped into a bike buggy in their driveway waiting on their parents, who were preparing to go for a family outing, when the man approached the buggy and burnt the cheek of one child, before quickly leaving the scene.
Darren Brennan (30), of Whitechurch Road, Ballyboden, Dublin, was high on magic mushrooms when he was partially captured on CCTV footage approaching the children.
He pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of assault causing harm to the two-year-old boy at an address in Dublin on September 6 last year.
Both of the boy's parents gave emotional victim impact statements in court in which they described how “everything turned dark” the day a strange man approached their little boy in his own garden and harmed him for no reason.
The mother described how the little boy is now traumatised, scared of strange men, and has trouble sleeping.
He still has a mark on his face from the burn, although doctors do not believe he will be permanently scarred.
Sentencing Brennan, Judge Martin Nolan said it was a very distressing incident, both for the child and his parents.
“To attack a child in this way is a serious offence,” he said, noting the maximum sentence is five years' imprisonment.
Judge Nolan said it appeared Brennan burnt the child for “reasons unknown”, but it was clearly as a result of his drug-taking.
He handed down a three-year sentence but suspended the final 16 months on a number of conditions.
Garda Dillon O'Malley told Aideen Collard BL, prosecuting, that on the day in question, the toddler and his brother were waiting in the driveway in their buggy, while their parents popped in and out of the house preparing to go to the park.
Their mother had just gone back into the house to get sun cream for the children when she heard a scream.
The parents found the toddler hysterical in his buggy. His soother had fallen out of his mouth and there was a burning smell. They quickly discovered a burn on his right cheek.
Security footage taken from the house showed a man approaching the buggy with a garden trowel in one hand and an implement in the other. He bent quickly over the buggy before walking quickly away.
Brennan was identified by gardaí who recognised him from the footage. After searching his home, they found the mini blowtorch, which was used in the attack.
When questioned by gardaí, Brennan denied hurting the child. He said he saw “two perfect little boys” in the buggy and that he bent down to pat one of them on the head before deciding against it. He suggested the victim might have been stung by a bee.
Brennan later admitted to his psychiatrist that he carried out the attack. The court heard Brennan was on anti-psychotic drugs at the time of the incident and had also taken magic mushrooms.
He believed he was seeing “shadows” and was attempting to burn them away with the blow torch, defence counsel, Karl Monahan BL, said.
Brennan has no previous convictions.
Ms Collard said the little boy's entire family have been emotionally affected by what happened. The boy's parents in particular are “full of what-ifs”, she said.
The boy's father cried in court as he said the attack had left him “empty, scared for my family's safety and helpless”. He said he struggles with sleep and feels nauseated when he sees the footage of Brennan hurting his son.
The boy's mother said she still struggles to come to terms with the fact her child was attacked in their garden. She said the assault has left her sad and afraid.
“I hold my children close to my heart and tell them I love them every day,” she said.
Both parents reported how their child has had nightmares and sleep difficulties in the wake of the assault, has become hysterical when he sees a strange man and is scared to go out in the front garden where the attack occurred.
Mr Monahan said Brennan was diagnosed with autism when he was a child and Asperger's syndrome when he was a teenager. He started using cannabis which may have led to him developing schizophrenia.
Mr Monahan said his client “regrets what happened” and had expressed his regret to his psychiatrist.