A man who tricked four teenage girls into sending him sexual images and videos by masquerading as a teenage boy online has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.
The 49-year-old Dubliner sexually exploited girls in the UK and the US, an unidentified girl with an Irish name and his own stepdaughter, collecting over around 2,000 videos of the children masturbating or in sexually explicit poses.
The man also secretly placed hidden recording devices into his stepdaughter's bathroom and bedroom and installed software on her computer that enabled him to take control of her webcam, computer microphone and the computer screen from a computer in another room.
He used the software to produce videos of the child in various states of nudity or semi-nudity or changing her clothes and still images of her naked from the waist down while dressing. He carried out the offending from February 2010 to December 2013 when the victim was aged 13 to 16.
The offending emerged in 2013 when a woman in the UK contacted police there after she discovered her teenage daughter had sent sexualised images of herself to someone claiming to be a 17-year-old boy living in Dublin. Police in the UK traced the fake account to the defendant's home in Dublin and gardaí went to the house with a search warrant.
The subsequent analysis of the defendant's computer found the sexually explicit images of the victims, included the semi-nude images of his stepdaughter. Two other victims were identified, a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl in the US.
The 14-year-old sent 41 videos of herself masturbating to the defendant who she thought was a teenage boy and with whom she considered herself to be in a relationship.
The man pleaded guilty to possession and production of sexually explicit images of children, contrary to the Child Pornography Act 1998. He also pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of the UK victim between February 2012 and December 2013 by inviting and coercing her to participate in a sexual or obscene act.
There were eight charges in total and the pleas were accepted by the DPP on the basis of the full facts of the offending being heard in evidence.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that in 2007, the man began a relationship with the mother of the Dublin-based victim. In 2010 this child was aged 13 and received a message purporting to be from a teenage boy called Ben.
She sent him some images and he then began threatening her to send more. The girl told her stepfather, the defendant, who pretended then to have identified the boy and beat him up to get him to stop.
The man later admitted to gardaí that he was behind the fake account and had used it to get the girl to send naked images of herself and engage in sexualised conversations. He said he was aroused by these and admitted that he had become obsessed with his stepdaughter.
In her impact statement this victim, now an adult, told the court that she lost her childhood due to her stepdad's predatory behaviour.
“He isolated me and manipulated me and threatened me. I felt lost, that I had no voice. We were all warned about online predators, but what happens when the predator is in your own home,” she said.
Judge Melanie Greally said the offending has had a huge emotional turmoil on this woman and noted a counselling report which states that the trauma continues to permeate her life. She noted that the man, who previously worked in the electronic and aviation industry, has been assessed as being at a low to moderate risk of re-offending.
The judge said the man's threats to his stepdaughter, under the guise of fake accounts, his manipulation of her and the pretense of trying to help her while deceiving her were just some of the aggravating factors.
Judge Greally sentenced him five-and-a-half years for the production of child pornography offence. The maximum penalty available is 14 years. She suspended the final year on condition that he engage with the Probation Service, including with assessment for sex offender treatment, and not have any unsupervised access to children.
Judge Greally imposed two-year sentences, to run concurrently, for the two other offences. She said she was taking into consideration the man's guilty pleas, his expressions of shame and remorse and his lack of any previous convictions.
Speaking to the man's stepdaughter, Judge Greally thanked her for coming to court and describing the offending as having cast a huge and dark cloud over her life for a long time.
She said that she realised that it has taken more time than “is right or fair” for the case to finally conclude, but said she hoped the victim, now an adult, would continue with her recovery.
After his arrest in 2013, the man told investigating gardaí that he was attracted to girls in their early teens. He said he had destroyed his stepchild's life when “I was supposed to protect her”. “She will never forgive me, I can't expect her to,” he said.
In a second interview in 2018, he described his behaviour as disgusting and despicable and said he was a different person now.
“I don't know who that person was, I wish that person never existed,” he said. Defending counsel Remy Farrell SC asked the court to consider that while his client had become obsessed with his stepchild there had never been any physical contact.