A Munster father and mother who engaged in the “most awful” sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and wilful neglect of their children have been jailed for 15 years and nine years respectively.
Sentencing the parents and three other family members in the Central Criminal Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the parents had engaged in “the most profound breach of trust a human being can commit against their children”.
He said the children were left isolated and under the total control of their adult relatives, who left them with no one to turn to and who engaged in the most “appalling” and “prolonged” sexual abuse of the three eldest children.
The judge jailed the father for 15 years after he was found guilty of all 31 offences against him. These included raping his three older children, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, wilful neglect and child cruelty.
The mother was jailed for nine years. She was found guilty of all 25 offences against her, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation and wilful neglect of her children.
The children's uncle – the husband of their maternal aunt – was jailed for 15 years. He was found guilty of all 10 counts against him, including rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of the three eldest children.
His wife, the children's 35-year-old maternal aunt, was jailed for three years for her part in the abuse, which involved three counts of sexually assaulting two of the children.
The children's maternal uncle was jailed for 15 years. He was found guilty of eight of the nine charges against him in relation to two of the children, including rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation.
The judge said there was no doubt that the effect of the abuse on the children has been enormous.
“The suffering they have endured has been enormous. The difficulties and stresses that they have been under have been enormous,” the judge said.
“I have little doubt there are difficulties they will face in the future resulting out of the consequences of what was done to them and what was not done for them and that this will have an effect on each of their lives.”
The five family members were found guilty by a jury of all but one of the 78 counts against them following a 10-week trial held at Croke Park last summer.
They were all found guilty of sexually abusing the three eldest children on dates between August 2014 and April 2016, while the parents were found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of the children, who were aged between one and nine during this period.
The father was also found guilty of mistreating three of the children by medicating them. The court heard that one of the children had a medical condition and the father admitted to a social worker that he administered his medication to some of the other children to try and “knock them out” at night.
The parents, uncles and aunt have been in custody since last August when the verdicts were handed down. They all continue to maintain their innocence, their sentence hearing was told last week.
None of the five family members reacted when the sentences were handed down.
Both of the parents engaged in “the most profound breach of trust a human being can commit against their children”, the judge said.
Their father had a “very high level of criminal responsibility” for the 31 offences he was found guilty of committing against his children, which included the rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of his three eldest children, as well as permitting others to engage in sexual activity with them. These are offences “of the most horrendous kind”, the judge said.
The father also wilfully neglected his five children and engaged in child cruelty by regularly medicating three of them. “They were very cruelly and badly treated and it was a continuous form of abuse and neglect,” the judge said. “It was cruelty of the most serious kind.”
He, like the other offenders, has no previous convictions and has not come to the attention of gardaí since these offences.
The judge handed down sentences of 15 years for each of the rape counts, five years for the sexual assault counts and four years for the neglect and child cruelty counts.
The judge said he had considered making the sentences he handed down to each of the five offenders consecutive but concluded this would result in “wholly disproportionate” sentences for each of them.
The judge said he had also considered suspending part of the sentences handed down, but he noted it was difficult to see how any of the offenders could engage in rehabilitation, given that they continue to reject the jury's verdicts.
The sexual offences the 34-year-old mother committed against her children did, by their nature, fall into the lesser category of seriousness when compared to the acts committed by the children's male relatives, the court heard.
She was found guilty of the sexual assault and sexual exploitation of her three older children, as well as permitting others to have sexual activity with them and wilfully neglecting five of them.
There was some evidence the abuse “was not primarily driven by her”, which the judge accepted.
But there was a “high level of culpability on her part as the mother of the children”, the judge said. As well as abusing her children, she knew they were being abused by others under her roof. She “witnessed, encouraged or tolerated” this abuse, as well as engaging in the wilful neglect of her children.
The trial heard the woman made admissions to gardaí when arrested in 2018, but she later resiled from these admissions and continues to protest her innocence.
The judge said it seemed to him that the mother was expressing her sorrow and regret for what she had done when she made the admissions to gardaí. These admissions aided the investigation, but lost their value in terms of mitigation when she resiled from them.
The mother has no previous convictions and came from a family home that was marred by violence. There was no evidence of sexual abuse in her childhood, the judge said.
He handed down concurrent sentences of nine years for the sexual exploitation charges, five years for the sexual assault, four years for the child cruelty charges and five years for allowing others to engage in sexual activity with the children.
The mother's sister was found guilty of three counts of sexually abusing two of the children – her niece and nephew. Her level of offending was less serious than the others, but she also had a high degree of moral culpability, the judge said.
“She contributed to the overall pain and suffering [the children] endured,” the judge said. The abuse was “degrading and humiliating”, he said.
The judge noted the aunt was a psychologically vulnerable woman, who is “prone to emotional collapse under pressure”. She married her husband at a young age and is a socially isolated woman.
The judge handed down concurrent three-year sentences for each of the sexual assault counts.
The aunt's husband engaged in behaviour that “can only be regarded as depraved and hugely humiliating” for the children, the judge said. He was involved in “exploitative offending of the worst and most sickening kind”.
The court heard the uncle presented himself to social workers as someone who was trying to help the mother and father to be better parents. This behaviour was “duplicitous”, the judge said.
“This was a man who, while presenting himself convincingly as someone trying to assist social services in helping the parents... was himself during that period engaged in this appalling sexual abuse,” the judge said.
The uncle engaged in the gross betrayal of trust of the child victims. “He has a high degree of responsibility for these offences.”
The man has no previous convictions and a history of mental health issues. The court heard he was hospitalised for a period of three to four years with psychiatric problems, although the judge noted there was no information as to when this occurred or the nature of the prognosis.
He handed down concurrent sentences of 15 years for the rape and sexual exploitation charges and four years for the sexual assault charges.
The mother's youngest brother was found guilty of eight of the nine offences against him, including rape and sexual exploitation pertaining to two of the children, his niece and nephew. He was acquitted of one count of sexually assaulting his niece.
This abuse was “horrific” and “part of a series of abusive acts the children were subjected to”, the judge said. They were extremely serious.
Unlike his co-offenders, the man had a significant history of employment. Testimonials were handed in to court describing him as hard-working, honest and reliable. He was involved in sports in the community.
The judge handed down concurrent sentences of 15 years for the rape charges and six years for the sexual exploitation charge.
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