How the State's Justice system re-traumatised the Odumosu sisters

Last week Patrick Caffrey was sentenced to three years in prison for abusing four of his nieces during visits to his home. Siobhan and Grace Odumosu tell Mick Clifford the story of their fight for justice against the man who stole their childhoods
How the State's Justice system re-traumatised the Odumosu sisters

Grace and Siobhan Odumosu who were sexually assaulted by their uncle Patrick Caffrey. Caffrey was sentenced at the Dublin Central Criminal Court to four years in prison with one suspended. Photograph: Moya Nolan

On Christmas Day 2016, the Odumosu family went over to their relations the Caffreys in Grove Road, Harold’s Cross in Dublin. The families had shared the festive season and so much else for decades. Siobhán and Grace Odumosu were there, adults now and Siobhán had a daughter. Their other sister Fiona was over in Chicago, where Grace was also living, but Grace had made it home for the holiday. Their mother and Patrick Caffrey’s wife were sisters in the tight-knit, extended family.

At the Caffreys’ house Grace couldn’t help noticing even the most casual, innocuous interaction between her niece and Caffrey. “I just kept seeing her and thinking that it could happen to her, that he could be doing it to her. I didn’t want her to experience life as I had so I made a disclosure to my sister-in-law.” 

What she revealed to her brother’s wife was that her childhood had been blighted by sexual abuse perpetrated on her by Caffrey. At last month’s sentencing hearing, Grace said that the abuse had happened for a long time and that it developed over the years. She would say that she was groomed and she never got to have her first kiss, that it was taken away from her. When she was a child, Christmas was her favourite time of year. Christmas was now destroyed for her.

On Stephen’s Day 2016, the Odumosu siblings gathered at Siobhán’s house. Their brother, who was now aware of Grace’s disclosure, was crying. Siobhán didn’t know what was going on. “I thought somebody was dead,” she says. “Then my brother told me that Grace had been abused by Pat Caffrey. It was like a switch. Oh, I said, he did that to me too. Things began to fall apart then for me. For about a month I didn’t know where I was.” 

 Siobhán Odumosu had repressed the memories of being sexually abused by Parick Caffrey.
Siobhán Odumosu had repressed the memories of being sexually abused by Parick Caffrey.

At last month’s hearing, Siobhán, in her victim impact statement, said she had repressed the memories of being sexually abused. After Grace made her disclosure and it was brought out in the open, Siobhán began having flashbacks, her mind was instantly overcome and her world turned upside down. She was crying for days and could not process the enormity of what she had been through. She said she had huge guilt about her younger sister, Grace.

On that Stephen’s Day the Odumosu siblings’ mother arrived at Siobhán’s house and was told what was happening. She was in shock. Soon afterwards she rang her third daughter, Fiona, in Chicago. “I was at home with my husband and two kids when my mom called,” Fiona says. “It was a day or two after Christmas. She asked me to go somewhere private and asked me directly: ‘Was Patrick Caffrey ever inappropriate with you?’ The minute she asked the question I had a wave of dread and relief flow at the same time. I said, ‘yes, yes he was…’ not knowing then that she was going to fill me in on what happened to both my sisters. Once I found out that Siobhán and Grace had also been abused I was devastated and spent most of the next few days in a state of shock, crying and in bed.

It was awful being so far away and I was lucky to have some close friends I could confide in as well as my husband who was very supportive and helped me get back on my feet to face the years to follow.

In her victim impact statement at Caffrey’s trial last month, Fiona said she had been caused “unbearable pain”. She told the court Caffrey was such as “textbook groomer” he had convinced her she was the only he had done this with and she was the “disgusting one”. She had left Ireland to pursue educational opportunities, she said, but deep down she knew it was a way to get away from this predator. Although he was no longer physically in her life, the damage was done.

As the family reeled in shock in Siobhán’s house at the revelations on Stephen’s Day, Siobhán felt there was somebody else who needed to be informed about what was going on. “Something inside me said we need to ring Linda, our cousin who was living in Galway.” Linda’s mother is a sister of the Odumosus’ mother and of Caffrey’s wife.

“I rang and told her what had happened and she was stunned and then she went, ‘oh no, I thought it was just me’. She had tried to get help when she was younger when it happened to her, but she didn’t get the support at the time. She was met with a barrier, just that classic Irish thing of brush it under the carpet, let’s not talk about it, let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.” 

In her victim impact statement, Linda said when the abuse happened she did not know what to do. She was frightened, disgusted, confused. Being targeted by him had created a chain of events of negativity in her life, she said. “Silence is the friend of the people who do this and I no longer want my voice silenced,” she said.

Soon after the disclosures spilling out in the last days of 2016, all four made statements to the gardaí. The abuse happened over a twelve-year period between 1991 and 2003, nearly always when the girls, as they were, visited or stayed over at the Caffreys’ home. There were times like the occasion when one of them had been abused while sleeping in the same room as Caffrey’s daughter, their cousin. Another time he sexually assaulted one of them when she was babysitting for him. At the trial, the judge said that while the crimes did not feature the most egregious aspects of abuse as defined in law at the time, such as touching the vaginal area or violence, it was “persistent, nasty and insidious.” Apart from the emerging trauma of what had occurred and been kept secret, there was the issue of how Caffrey’s immediate family was going to react.

“We had all been very, very close,” Grace says. “We called our aunt (Caffrey’s wife) and asked her to come to my brother’s house. We told her what had happened, expecting her to be upset but thinking she would stick with us. Unfortunately that was not what happened. She cried a lot but her first question was are you going to the guards.” There was no question about that as far as Grace was concerned. The extent of what had gone on, the impact it had and was having, and the sundering of close family ties, all meant that any hope of closure could only be arrived at if Caffrey was made to answer for his crimes.

“It was all like a tonne of bricks had hit us,” Grace says. “I said to the others, we’re not going to let this bury us. We’re going to the guards.” 

 

Patrick Caffrey pleaded guilty to a total of 22 counts of sexual assault committed against his four nieces on dates between December 1, 1991, and December 18, 2003. Picture: Collins Courts
Patrick Caffrey pleaded guilty to a total of 22 counts of sexual assault committed against his four nieces on dates between December 1, 1991, and December 18, 2003. Picture: Collins Courts

'The wait was mental torture'

A constant theme among groups who represent victims of sexual violence or assault is the difficulty in bringing a criminal case to a successful conclusion. Victims are understandably often reluctant to pay what can be a heavy toll to achieve justice in the courts. And when victims do come forward, the system is such that their experience can often add rather than relieve the trauma to which they have been subjected.

The experience of the victims in this case was not positive. They met individuals along the way who were professional and compassionate, but there was also much in the system that left them angry and confused. After all four made statements, a detective was assigned to liaise with them. The importance of this role can’t be understated. Victims have embarked on a strange, sometimes frightening journey. There will be all sorts of questions to be answered. Attempts to carry on life with some normality is difficult. To know that there is an experienced garda keeping an eye out, and offering a guiding, hand makes a major difference.

“I was able to go back to Chicago,” Grace says. 

I didn’t have to go through what Siobhán did because it was all out now and everybody knew. I didn’t have to worry about seeing him or seeing the rest of his family who chose not to believe us. Our family home is a ten-minute drive from Caffreys.
The journey began well. “We had a lovely detective at the start,” Siobhán says. “She was female and that made a big difference because it was great to have a woman there with whom you could talk through things. Then all that ended. She went on maternity leave and when she came back her role was changed. I asked if her replacement could be a woman. This whole thing takes over your life and you start to second guess everything. It’s not easy to confide in a man.” Despite her request, they were assigned a male garda.

Notwithstanding his gender, Siobhán – who was the principal representative of the women as she was the one living in Dublin – found this officer to be professional. “He worked really hard, dotted all the i’s, crossed the t’s. He was really good but then he got long Covid and we were transferred to another man. This one didn’t even show up in court. He rang and said a colleague would be representing him. We didn’t even know what this colleague looked like, had never even spoken to him before we went to court. I was angry at that. I couldn’t believe it was like we weren’t even considered.”
The case took nearly four-and-a-half years to come to court. While a small element of the delay could be attributed to the pandemic, that length of a wait is not unusual. It does, however, come with a cost for victims.

“The wait was mental torture,” Siobhán says. “We couldn’t move on. I was going to therapy, finding our own way through the waiting part. We weren’t even supposed to talk to each other about it and we’re sisters. We were just left waiting with this massive thing hanging over us.” 

Siobhán was put in touch with the child sexual abuse charity, One In Four. She talks in glowing terms about her experience with the agency and the person assigned to her case, whom, she says, fulfilled every possible role in support and guidance, way beyond the official brief of her job.

In December 2020, Grace moved back home from Chicago. By then the trial date was fast approaching, scheduled for the following April. Naturally, the women wanted to know what to expect and what was expected of them. They would be entering a room with not just the perpetrator, but his family from whom they were now estranged. They would be giving evidence in public, subject to the glare of cross examination, about traumatic events.

They asked to meet the lawyers representing the state to find out what they were to do. A meeting was arranged for April 22, four days before the trial was to start.

“We went in to meet in the Criminal Courts of Justice building which is a daunting place anyway,” Grace says. “And when we met the solicitor and barrister we were told ‘you know, we’ve decided not to go ahead with it (on the scheduled date)’. We had been all set. Fiona over in Chicago had made arrangements to travel and organise her kids, and so had Linda in Galway.”
The trial was rescheduled for June. This time, there was no word of delay so all four victims and their families showed up in court. Nothing happened on the first day. There were applications and delays. Come back tomorrow. The following day, nothing happened again. Later in the day, the sisters were told that the judge was annoyed at the failure to begin the trial and insisted that a jury would be sworn in the following morning and the trial would get underway.

“There weren’t enough judges, some problem with barristers, it was all delay, delay, delay,” Grace says. “Then, after the judge was apparently annoyed at the failure to start, later that evening we got a call from the guard.”
Caffrey, after four-and-a-half years denying everything, was going to plead guilty.

“I cried,” Siobhán says. “In a way I was relieved but also angry we didn’t get to stand up and tell our story and have a jury believe us.” 

 Grace Odumosu says of her court experiences: "There weren’t enough judges and some problem with barristers: it was all delay, delay, delay."
Grace Odumosu says of her court experiences: "There weren’t enough judges and some problem with barristers: it was all delay, delay, delay."

The four victims were provided with a template for their respective statements but little else. Grace says that the template was one a one-size-fits-all document, which could have been used as easily by somebody whose bicycle had been stolen. Over in Chicago, Fiona found herself particularly removed from everything. Through the whole journey since 2016, she had been taken aback at the lack of guidance or assistance any of them had received.

“I was shocked to learn that there was really nobody assigned from the gardaí to be any kind of advocate to walk us through it all,” she said. 

Every interaction felt as though we were a hassle and just a case number, not real people dealing with raw trauma and emotion.

Fiona wrote a statement and sent it off to the gardaí. She organised to fly home for the sentencing hearing, but was to arrive early in order to physically sign her statement in the garda station. She landed on 4 October last and travelled directly from the airport to Rathmines garda station.

“Due to a queue I was left standing out in the cold (outside the station) for at least twenty-five or thirty minutes. Then I was brought into the room where I gave my initial statement in 2017 and left there alone which was traumatising. When the garda reappeared he couldn’t figure out how to print my statement to sign. He tried for about fifteen minutes and then I was told that somebody would drop it off that night. Clearly he knew I was coming to sign the statement but had made no arrangement to be ready or to tell me how to avoid standing in a long queue after a seven hour flight.”
On the day of the sentencing hearing, there was more grief that could have been avoided. The scheduling didn’t suit one of the barristers and would have to be postponed. An agreement was reached to hear the victim impact statements on the day in order to facilitate Fiona, but she didn’t feel she was being accommodated.

“That was the final insult,” she says. “This now meant the judge heard our statements first and I knew I was not able to be there for sentencing as my return flight was booked for the following Sunday. That meant I will never know the feeing of hearing the sentencing first hand. I was offered no future video link from the gardaí, nor did they ever reach out to me on this. I am still dealing with the hardship of feeling disconnected from such an important day in my journey with this five year process.”
The hearing of the victim impact statements separate from other elements of the sentencing is worth noting. Ordinarily, the statements follow evidence from a garda about the facts of the case. This puts the statements into context. The details of the abuse are related and then the victim relates how that abuse impacted on them. The events are heard in sequence in open court. Arguably, hearing the statements first – and on a separate day – takes from the purpose of their role in the system.

On November 1, Caffrey was sentenced to four years in prison, with twelve months suspended. Judge Pauline Codd pointed out that the maximum sentence at the time the offences were committed for this type of abuse was five years imprisonment. The sisters all have major issues with the sex offenders register, particularly the inability of victims, or the general public, to access it in order to inform themselves if an offender is living in their area. 

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