Six months does not reflect society’s revulsion at ordeal endured by victim

THE controversial case in which a Dublin businessman was ordered to pay a victim of sexual assault a sum of €75,000, and had five-and-a-half years of a six-year sentence suspended, suggests that here is one law for the rich, and another for the poor, in this country.

The sordid details of the case are, by now, well known. Aviation broker Anthony Lyons, whose name has constantly been prefixed in media reports with the words “successful“, “wealthy” and “high-profile”, spent the evening of Oct 2, 2010, drinking pints and watching a rugby match in his north Dublin local.

In the early hours of the next morning he hailed a cab, with the intention of continuing drinking in the city centre, but instead decided to get out at Griffith Avenue and walk the short distance home.

His victim, a 27-year-old teacher, had just left a family function when Lyons snuck up behind her and put his arm around her, perversely asking if she would be okay getting home, before rugby tackling her to the ground.

There, face-down in the dirt in a dark wooded area, powerless against the full weight of her attacker on top of her, she was subjected to, what Judge Desmond Hogan described as, a violent sexual assault “of a seriously frightening nature”.

Lyons was so intent on attacking the young woman that even when, in a desperate bid to appeal to his humanity, she lied and shouted that she was pregnant, he continued the assault her. It was only when he thought he was going to be caught, after a passerby intervened, that he fled.

Despite her harrowing ordeal, the victim immediately agreed to get into a Garda car and accompany Gardaí as they drove around the area in an effort to locate her attacker. He was arrested minutes later, just 100 yards from his home, but stubbornly maintained his innocence throughout three separate interviews.

A month later, Lyons changed his story and returned to the garda station with a pre-prepared written statement. In it, he admitted attacking the woman but denied culpability in, what prosecuting counsel Kerida Naidoo derisively dubbed, his “plan B — the cholesterol-made-me-do-it plan”.

Lyons claimed he was overcome with an “irresistible urge” to attack his victim because he had combined his cholesterol medication, Crestor, with alcohol and over-the-counter cough syrup.

Prof Alice Stanton, a specialist in clinical pharmacology told the Circuit Criminal Court that clinical trials of the drug provided no evidence that it caused increased irritability, aggression or violence.

The jury was evidently unconvinced by evidence proffered by Lyons’s medical expert, which referred to a number of case studies showing patients on similar types of medication had also displayed uncharacteristically aggressive behaviour.

In fact, the unsustainable nature of the defence is also apparent when one considers that Crestor, the number-two selling cholesterol drug in the world, which had sales of €4.5bn last year, is deemed so safe that it has recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use as a preventive medicine to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke — meaning that tens of millions of people without any cholesterol problems are now also taking the drug.

While Lyons was, of course, entitled to mount a vigorous defence against the charges, it amounted to a convoluted strategy to, in the words of prosecuting counsel, “bamboozle” the jury with complex medical evidence so that he could evade responsibility for the attack.

The contested scientific evidence also contributed significantly to the eight-day length of the trial, at great expense to the Exchequer and causing even more distress for his victim.

Despite his attempt to rationalise his brutish behaviour, the jury saw straight through Lyons’ self-serving version of events and took just three hours to return a unanimous guilty verdict.

Lyons was undoubtedly overcome with an “irresistible urge” to attack the young woman but the urge stemmed from his own base deviance and not a prescription drug he had only begun taking 24-hours prior to the attack.

Following the exceptional bravery of the victim, the assiduousness of the Garda investigation and the meticulous nature of the State’s prosecution, it is deplorable that Lyons has escaped with just a six-month sentence after Judge Hogan suspended five-and-a-half years of a six-year term.

The judge himself recognised the barbarity of the attack, saying it was at the higher end of the scale, and acknowledged the profoundly damaging impact it would have on the life of the victim in perpetuity.

“The long-abiding psychological trauma suffered by her is perhaps seriously greater than the physical injuries she sustained,” he said, before then ordering the defendant to pay compensation of €75,000 and serve just six months of a six-year sentence.

“This is not a matter of compensation being offered with a view to being treated more favourably by the court, this is an order being made by the court,” the judge stated.

However, one has to wonder, if the defendant had not been a man of means, and had been unable to come up with such a large sum in just one month, would the resulting prison sentence have been substantially longer? Lyons’s wealth, or lack thereof, should have no bearing on the time that he spends in prison — that should be determined, primarily, by the nature of the offence and his culpability for it.

Ordinarily, the purpose of sentencing is to mark society’s abhorrence of a particular crime, to deter the offender and others from committing the crime, to acknowledge the harm caused to victims and the community by such crimes and to rehabilitate the defendant.

While the judge was of the opinion that Lyons would not re-offend, it is unlikely that a six-month sentence adequately reflects society’s revulsion at the ordeal he subjected his victim to or, indeed, will deter others from committing similarly serious offences.

JUDGE HOGAN’S lenient sentence is of particular concern when one considers that, according to the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report, one in five women, and one in ten men, in this country are victims of sexual assault, but just a tiny fraction of this number ever report the abuse. The prosecution figures for rape are equally alarming, with just one in 10 rapes being reported to gardaí and just 30% of these ultimately ending up before the courts.

What kind of message does it send to the victims of these kinds of pervasive, yet seriously underreported, sexually-based offences when a young woman, who endures the trauma of an eight-day trial, sees her attacker handed a six-month sentence from a maximum possible penalty of 10 years? The malign impact on members of her family, who have publicly denounced Monday’s sentence, and the local community, some of whom have expressed their fear of walking alone in the area of the attack, must also be considered.

The onus must now be on the DPP to appeal the leniency of Lyons’s sentence and restore confidence in the ability of our criminal justice system to adequately punish the perpetrators of these kinds of insidious crimes.

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