'He destroyed my whole life': Cork man who repeatedly raped his sister jailed for seven years

Nora Hegarty, 35, waived her right to anonymity because she wanted her brother to be identified for what he did to her for years in the family home in the Glanmire area in the 1990s when she was aged between nine and 12
'He destroyed my whole life': Cork man who repeatedly raped his sister jailed for seven years

Nora Hegarty was aged between nine and 12 at the time of the rapes and sexual assaults. Her brother was aged from 15 to 18. She is now 35. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Cork man who repeatedly raped his own young sister stole her childhood and derailed her adulthood, the sentencing judge said as she jailed him for seven years.

John Paul Hegarty, 41, of Castleview, Little Island, Co Cork, was sentenced by Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork.

The judge noted the victim could not remember a time in her childhood when she was not being sexually abused by her brother, John Paul Hegarty.

Nora Hegarty’s earliest memory of sexual abuse was sitting on a couch watching television at home with her brothers with all of them under a duvet, and that John Paul digitally interfered with her vagina. She was seven. He went on to sexually assault and rape her for years.

Ms Justice Murphy said it happened so much that Nora Hegarty “came to view it as an integral part of her childhood. She was consistently available to him to satisfy his desires and curiosity and he regularly indulged himself at her expense at various locations throughout the house.

“He explained he was experimenting. It continued until she was 12. It ended not because of guilt or remorse but because he feared she might become pregnant. He repeatedly enquired whether she was bleeding yet.

“Her mother described her [growing up] as the worst child she had. She wanted to explain to her mother why she was the worst child.” 

The judge noted from the complainant’s evidence in the trial that her brother, John Paul, admitted to her the fact of abuse when she first disclosed it when she was 18. However, the judge said the defendant was 24 or 25 at the time and did nothing to resolve it.

His multiple rape convictions only came now following a trial based on the formal complaint she made to gardaí, in what she described as a 30th birthday present to herself, and an attempt to find some relief from the suffering she continued to endure.

Ms Justice Murphy said defence senior counsel Blaise O’Carroll put forward in mitigation the fact the accused asked the complainant to be bridesmaid at his wedding. The defence described this as an attempt to amend damage. 

The judge said: “The court prefers Nora Hegarty’s characterisation of this as his attempts to silence her.” The judge said the accused was trying to ‘enmesh’ the complainant and it showed the pernicious nature of intra-familial sexual abuse.

Referring to the submissions put forward in mitigation, the judge said the accused did not accept the verdict of the jury and did not accept responsibility for the crimes. 

“The defendant has sought to minimise and deflect blame to others, blaming his parents for lack of supervision and the fact the boys in the house had access to pornographic magazines.” 

But the judge said he was the only one who raped and abused his young sister.

The judge said the rapes and sexual assaults carried out by John Paul Hegarty commenced when he was a juvenile, and account had to be taken of this. But she said he was still committing these crimes up to the age of 18-and-a-half.

Waiving her right to anonymity, Nora Hegarty wanted her brother to be identified for what he did to her for years in the family home in the Glanmire area in the 1990s.

Nora Hegarty said: “I did this for all the people out there in the same situation as me, so they might have the courage to speak out. I thought reporting it would break me but it made me stronger. I want to say to people in my situation, don’t be afraid, you have people to pick you up even if you feel like you cannot go on.” 

As well as thanking her mother for being supportive of her, Ms Hegarty expressed the hope that nothing in the trial would damage that bond. Ms Justice Murphy said: “Her mother found herself in the awful position of having to give evidence in a trial where her daughter was the victim and her son was the perpetrator.”

Nora Hegarty's victim impact statement

“First, I want to say to my family, there are no winners in all of this. All I wanted to do is hand all the hurt, pain and anger I’ve been living with all these years to the person that caused it all. I can’t live with the pain anymore. I wished it didn’t have to come to this. I told ye for a reason when I was 18 as I felt I couldn’t go on anymore.

“I hoped that something would have happened then. I hoped ye would have helped me. I hoped you could have eased the pain for me but nothing was done. All that happened was that it was swept under the carpet for years. I felt so let down.

John Paul Hegarty denied raping his younger sister over a three-year period. File picture
John Paul Hegarty denied raping his younger sister over a three-year period. File picture

“I thought my fight for survival was over but I was completely wrong. Instead I was left with further feelings of pain and anger that I now had towards my family. I felt my family only cared for themselves. What I had been through at the hands of John Paul didn’t seem to affect them in any way.

“It was life as usual and I was expected to act as if nothing ever happened. I played happy families so much so that I ended up bridesmaid at his wedding.

“This caused me even more torment. I knew what John Paul was doing. He was trying to make sure his dirty secret didn’t get out again.

“I’ve felt alone all my life. I’ve had to get justice for myself by myself with no support from anyone in my family. It breaks my heart that there are families torn apart from all of this but couldn’t go on suffocating. It consumed me and was eating me away.

“John Paul took my childhood from me and I can never get it back. In fact, he destroyed my whole life. Everyone born into this world should have the right to live it free and choose their own path in life. I didn’t get that chance. John Paul took this all away from me and left me so damaged that all I could do was try and survive day to day.

“I close my eyes and I have no memories of a time where I was happy or felt love. Because John Paul began sexually assaulting me at such a young age. All I am left with is horrible dark memories – feelings of being scared, of not understanding what was happening to me. I have memories of questioning why no one was protecting me from the constant abuse and rape by John Paul. To this day I have to have a light on when I sleep.

“I was such a great student in primary school, I was a great singer, I was captain of my football team, I had so much potential to be whatever I wanted to be. When I reached the age when I understood what John Paul had done to me – maybe 13/14 years old – that all changed and my life began to spiral out of control. I turned to alcohol and drugs to dull the memories and numb the pain, anger and hurt.

“I was told constantly I was the worst. This made me angrier and all I wanted was my mum to know why I was the worst child. I seemed to never be able to tell her, up until I was 18 years old. At that time, I was studying childcare in college. After telling her just before my exams, I couldn’t go back to college because of all the pain and stress and I couldn’t finish the course I loved. Even at that point, my family pushed me away. They continued to support John Paul, inviting him to all the family occasions.

“I didn’t want to go into my 30s with nothing done about what John Paul did to me. I decided that as a 30th birthday present to myself I was going to report it to the guards. I met with Sergeant John O’Connell and made my statement. Even though it was hard, he made me feel comfortable and reassured me at every step along the way. I could no longer keep this shameful secret – I was a child who was raped and sexually abused by my brother John Paul. I did nothing wrong but all through my life I felt it was me in the wrong. I was not going to be silenced anymore. I needed to do this for me and the little girl who was silenced for years.

“I did this for all the people out there in the same situation as me, so they might have the courage to speak out. I thought reporting it would break me but it made stronger. I want to say to people in my situation, don’t be afraid, you have people to pick you up even if you feel like you cannot go on.

“I want John Paul to be named. I know this will identify me too but I am ready. I have prepared myself for years for this. I – or anyone else who has or is being abused – have nothing to be ashamed about. We have done nothing wrong. It’s not our dirty secret to keep. We can seek justice for ourselves.

“My mom is very supportive to me now. I would be lost without her. I hope by doing this it won’t break our bond that we have built up over the years. I am sorry for this, mom, but I need to do this for myself. I hope you understand.” 

Nora Hegarty concluded her victim impact statement by thanking her Uncle Dave, Aunt Norma, Det Sgt John O’Connell, Garda Eimear Brennan and Garda Mary Bridget Enneguess, her legal team – Catherine Fanning, Donal O’Sullivan and Siobhán Lankford - and Support After Crime for their help, and her friends, Liam and Ailish.

“I would not have done it without any of ye. Ye believed in me and helped me carry on. Thank ye from the bottom of my heart.” 

The trial

The victim of repeated rape by her brother told a jury during her week-long trial that she felt like a robot – programmed to act like he wanted.

The jury at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork were unanimous in the 23 guilty verdicts they delivered in the case against 41-year-old John Paul Hegarty, who commences a seven-year jail sentence for his sexual crimes.

He denied raping his younger sister mainly over a three-year period but the nine men and three women did not believe him. They deliberated extensively before finding him guilty on the 23 counts. On one further count there was a 10-2 majority guilty verdict. And only on one count – the 25th on the indictment – was there a not guilty verdict.

Nora Hegarty, who waived her right to anonymity, was aged between nine and 12 at the time of the rapes and sexual assaults. Her brother was aged from 15 to 18. She is now 35.

The victim said that whatever the number of rape charges on the indictment, she was raped by her brother almost on a daily basis for three years:

“I remember saying why is he doing it to me when he has a girlfriend?

“It happened hundreds of times. I cannot even remember the first time it was so many times I was so programmed to do it. It was like a normal thing I had to do all the time. No child should have to do this as a normal thing. I was so programmed to do it I was like a robot.” 

Defence senior counsel Blaise O’Carroll senior counsel said during cross-examination: “He gives a different timeline for the sexual play going on between himself and yourself.” 

The complainant replied: “The sexual play. Is that what you just said? I was a child, man.”  Mr O’Carroll said in respect of that description: “From his [the defendant’s] perspective.” 

She said that at the age of 18 she told her mother that her brother was at her. “Every day my mother used to say you are the worst child I ever had. I had to tell my mum why I was like this. I told her so something would be done about it. But nothing at all was done. It was brushed under the carpet.” 

The complainant said her brother apologised to her when she was 21 and said: “Every time you got into trouble I felt bad because it was my fault… He said to me it is the first and last thing that he thinks about in bed. He never denied anything and he is here today denying everything.” 

The accused told Det Sgt John O’Connell: “I never forced her. I never raped her, as in forcing someone. I never forced her. I swear on my life I never had sex with her. It kills me when I think of what happened. I have apologised to her. I did a certain amount but I didn’t finger her or have sex with her… She’s making me out to be really bad.” 

The indictment that went to the jury consisted of 19 counts of rape, one count of anal rape, one count of oral rape and four sexual assaults. One of the rape charges was a majority guilty verdict and the anal rape was a not guilty verdict. Otherwise all verdicts were unanimous guilty.

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