Five family members accused of sexually abusing small children have been found guilty by a jury following a 10-week Central Criminal Court trial.
The children's mother, father, aunt, her husband and uncle were found guilty of all but one of the 78 counts against them today.
The final verdicts came in after a total of 19 hours and 54 minutes of deliberations. The jury started their deliberations on Thursday, July 29.
Earlier this morning, the jury returned 40 guilty counts in respect of four of the accused and one not guilty verdict in relation to the younger uncle. They returned a further 37 guilty counts – almost all majority verdicts – against the five accused this afternoon.
Thanking the jury for their service, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said words were inadequate to express his gratitude for the “contribution, application and dedication” the jury had shown throughout the trial.
“This was an extremely difficult case to deal with and get to grips with, both by the nature of the allegations and the complexity of it and by the nature of the principals to be absorbed and applied by you,” the judge said. “I want to thank you for that. It is a huge and onerous task.” He remanded all five in custody ahead of sentencing at a later date.
The five family members, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were accused of sexually abusing three children between 2014 and 2016. The accused are the parents, aunt and uncles of the children. They live in various locations in Munster.
The parents were also accused of wilfully neglecting five of their children while the father was accused of mistreating three of them by giving them medication. All of the accused had denied all of the charges against them.
Extensive reporting restrictions are in place to protect the welfare and identities of the children, who were taken into care in 2016. They were aged between one and nine at the time of the offending.
All of the offences are alleged to have taken place in Munster on unknown dates between August 18, 2014, and April 28, 2016.
None of the defendants made any reaction when the verdicts were handed down, except for the younger uncle who bowed his head and shook it. His partner – who was found not guilty by direction of the trial judge – was in court for the verdict. She started crying as the guilty verdicts were handed down.
The case against the children's grandmother was also withdrawn during the trial by direction of the judge.
The father was found guilty of 31 counts. In relation to the three older children, he was found guilty of six counts of rape, six counts of sexual assault, three counts of permitting other people to engage in sexual activity with a child and three counts of sexually exploiting two of them.
He was further found guilty of 10 counts of wilfully neglecting five of his children and three counts of mistreating three of his children by giving them medication. An additional three counts against him were withdrawn during the trial by direction of the judge.
The mother was found guilty of all 25 counts against her, including 10 counts of wilful neglect. In relation to the three older children, she was found guilty of 10 counts of sexual assault, three counts of permitting other people to engage in sexual activity with a child and two counts of sexually exploiting her oldest son.
The children's aunt was found guilty of all three counts, including two counts of sexually assaulting the girl and one count of sexually assaulting the second oldest boy.
The children's older uncle – the husband of their maternal aunt – was found guilty of all 10 counts against him.
He was found guilty of five counts of sexual assault, three counts of sexual exploitation and two counts of rape. Two additional counts were withdrawn during the trial.
The younger uncle was found guilty of eight of the nine charges against him. He was found guilty of six counts of rape and two counts of sexual exploitation. He was found not guilty of one count of sexually exploiting the girl. One count was withdrawn during the trial by direction of the judge.
The matter returns to court on October 4 when a sentence date will be set.
The prosecution case against the father was that he was a “serious multiple offender” in relation to each of his children. “He had huge responsibility for these children and, in cahoots with others, … permitted his children to be abused - children he had failed to take care of over a significant period of time,” Bernard Condon SC, prosecuting, said in his closing speech to the jury.
Mr Condon submitted there was “neglect by choice” on the part of the children's father and mother, who were given every possible support by social services but who didn't want that help.
The alleged neglect of the children was an “essential part of their vulnerability,” Mr Condon submitted. “It makes them more available. Lack of care, lack of boundaries, lack of safety. They become much more vulnerable to advantage being taken of them.” “Atrocious things” were done to the children, the prosecution alleged.
“They didn't just happen like that,” Mr Condon said. “They happened because of a combination of people coming together at the right time in the right circumstances. Huge advantage was taken by people who had responsibilities as adults.” Mr Condon noted there were “striking similarities” between the children's allegations and said it would be “extraordinary” that children that age to keep their story straight if they were not telling the truth.
Mark Nicholas SC, defending the father, said the credibility of the children's evidence remained the central issue. He said there was no supporting evidence to prove the father abused his children.
In relation to the neglect charges, Mr Nicholas said it was important to understand that not all neglect is criminal neglect and that criminal neglect has to be deliberate.
He said there was “a huge microscope” put on this family over the years by social workers, family support and charity workers, but at no stage did anyone suggest the parents were “bad folk”, that this was “wilful behaviour”.
He submitted the neglect of the children was “down to capacity and limitations” of the parents, who have a low IQ and an intellectual disability.
He said the child neglect charges were “tacked on” after the children made abuse allegations against their parents.
The trial heard that the father admitted to the family social worker that he regularly gave the children melatonin medication, which was prescribed to one of the children who had a medical condition. He said he gave it to them to get them to “settle” and that he gave the most to the girl as she was “the hardest to knock out”.
The prosecution case against the mother was that she was a “central” part of the case, that she sexually abused her children and allowed them to be sexually abused by others.
The trial heard the woman admitted abusing her children to gardaí and provided them with a list of names of people who also abused them.
These admissions to gardaí were “the strongest evidence you can have, an acknowledgment by the person who did it, that they did it,” Mr Condon told the jury.
“She has admitted her wrong-doing but is just not prepared to stand by the admissions she made to the guards,” he said.
He said it was “convenient” now for the mother to not want to accept her admissions but that there was a “ring of basic truth” to them which was consistent with her children's allegations against her.
In relation to the neglect charges, the fact that the mother may have a low IQ or an intellectual disability was “not an excuse, let us be clear about that”, Mr Condon said.
“When you look at the state of these children when they turned up at the foster homes, the caked faeces on their bodies, that's not not coping,” he said.
He said the mother was given every possible support by social services, but she didn't want their help, regularly walked away from them and asked when they were going to close their case on the family.
“It all comes full circle,” he said. “They didn't want them there because there were other things going on there. They didn't want these people under their feet.”
Dean Kelly SC, defending the mother, said she had made “exhausted admissions” to gardaí in her fifth of six interviews over a two-day period and that no adaptions were made by gardaí for the woman's intellectual disability.
Mr Kelly submitted that the sexual abuse of the three children could not have happened because of the “constant scrutiny” of state agencies.
In relation to the neglect charges, Mr Kelly referred to evidence the mother was “struggling to cope” and that it was not a deliberate and callous attempt by his client to wilfully neglect her children.
The prosecution case against the children's maternal aunt was that while she was “not a central player by any means”, that did “not absolve her from her responsibilities”.
The court heard that during her garda interviews, the aunt told gardaí that what the children were saying was truthful. However, following a consultation with her solicitor, she returned to the interview room and told gardaí that she had not done anything to the children and did not see anything going on.
“She was leaning towards making admissions,” Mr Condon said. “Some sort of admission about the children being truthful and then she came back and said 'I did nothing'."
He said that while the two children she is accused of abusing resiled “a little bit” from their allegations in relation to their grandmother and their uncle's partner, “they did not make any such concession in relation to [her].”
Anthony Sammon SC, defending the aunt, told the jury that his client had “tied herself in knots” during her garda interview. He also questioned the credibility of the children's evidence.
The prosecution case was that the older uncle was “right in the middle” of this case and right in the middle of the family's affairs, Mr Condon told the jury.
He was a “recurring feature in this case in all of the children's allegations” and the children gave “strong, compelling, consistent evidence” against him, he said.
The prosecution alleged the uncle played a significant role in the abuse of the oldest boy, and told him not to tell anyone. The man didn't do anything about what was going on in the house “because he was right in the middle of doing it”, the prosecution said.
“He was at the heart of this,” Mr Condon said.
Andrew Sexton SC, defending the man, told the jury that his client “vehemently denied” these “devastating allegations” and “in very simple terms he said he had never abused these children”.
The prosecution case was that the younger uncle was “a key part” in the sexual abuse of the children. The man was the only one of the accused to take the stand, where he repeatedly denied all of the allegations against him.
The court heard that both children first named their uncle as an alleged abuser in their second specialist garda interview. Mr Condon rejected the suggestion that the uncle was an “afterthought” in the case because he was only mentioned in the second interview. He said the girl in particular described “in great detail” what her uncle did to her.
Conor Devally SC, defending the uncle, submitted it was a sad situation where brutalised children had been “mismanaged”. He said their evidence against his client was hard to make sense of.
He said the late inclusion of the man in the case suggested there were many reasons to suspect something strange and that it would be a “travesty” to convict him on the evidence presented.