Declan Brennan and Fiona Ferguson
A 75-year-old man has been jailed for two years for the production, distribution and possession of child pornography.
Frederick Hunt told gardaí that boredom at work and curiosity about the internet led to the offending involving hundreds of graphic images and videos of child abuse. Gardai also found “essay type stories” describing the sexual abuse of children which led to production charges.
The offences were uncovered in 2012, but the court heard because of the delay and backlogs in the investigation of this type of material, gardai were only in a position to charge Hunt in 2018.
The retired man was caught after an FBI investigation linked an email address involved in the trading of “child pornography” to his home in Ballinteer, Co Dublin.
In January 2012, gardaí went to his home and seized a number of mobile phones and computer devices. They also linked Hunt to illegal activity carried out on his work computer at his former place of work in The Irish Times building in Dublin city.
Abuse and rape images
Using a number of email addresses, Hunt received and sent hundreds of images of young children being sexually abused and raped, Detective Garda Suzanne Carlos told the court.
One email referred to a female toddler wearing a bondage mask and involved in a sexual act with another child. Images of young girls in sexual poses and videos of the sexual abuse and bondage of pre-teen girls were linked to Hunt.
Gardaí identified 18 “essay type stories” describing the sexual abuse of children. Some of these were written by Hunt, including one referring to abduction and rape of pre-teens, leading to charges of production of “child pornography”.
Hunt of Ballinteer Court, Ballinteer, Dublin pleaded guilty to seven sample counts out of a total of 101 various charges under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998. He pleaded guilty to production, distribution and possession of the material on dates between 2010 and 2011.
Dt Gda Carlos told the court that 746 images and videos involved sexual abuse of real children. She said that both these and the 251 animated or cartoon images would be categorised at the most severe level of material in a three level system.
She said usually the animated images are categorised at the lowest level, but not in this case.
Judge Karen O'Connor said the victims in this material tended to be vulnerable children in the most deprived areas of the world. She said Hunt's offending was “egregious”, noting there was no evidence of material gain.
She took into account his previous good character, testimonials and reports before the court that considered him to be at low risk of reoffending. She noted he was a carer for his wife and a prison term for him would have a devastating effect on her.
Judge O'Connor said there had to be a deterrence for offences of this nature and despite his age and health issues the court had no alternative but to impose a custodial sentence.
She said she had structured the sentence to encourage further rehabilitation and had “very much” factored in the delay in the case.
The judge said if the case had come before the court in a more timely manner, Hunt would be spending more time in prison.
Judge O'Connor imposed concurrent sentences totalling three years and suspended the final year on conditions including one year probation supervision, attending a sex offenders program and participating in offence and victim focused work.
During the sentence hearing earlier this year, the court heard that in interview Hunt told gardaí he was bored at work with nothing to do and began browsing the internet, not looking for “child pornography” but said that's where he ended up.
“I was curious about the internet. I never had any intention of harming children. I'm not a paedophile, not in the sense of harming children,” he told gardaí.
Det Gda Carlos agreed with Michael Bowman SC, defending, that it was “very difficult to reconcile the individual” behind the emails with the man before the court. She accepted Mr Bowman's description of his client as “mild-mannered, gentle and compassionate”.
Counsel handed in a number of testimonials from Hunt's now adult children, including those he and his wife fostered over the last two decades.
Mr Bowman said these show his children's deep affection for him and describe “a loving caring empathetic man who gave without reservation to them over their life times”. He said they are aware of his crimes and were shocked.
He told the court there was no issue in relation to the safety of these children and they have gone on to “flourish” as adults.
A testimonial from Hunt's wife detailed how she is up to 90 per cent bedridden due to physical illness and that Hunt is her effective carer. She said she is totally dependent on Hunt, who cooks for her and washes and tends to her other bodily needs.
Mr Bowman said that Hunt is now a pariah in his community. He said because of the almost unique stigma attached to this type of offending, the punishment is served in the community before and long after sentenced is passed.
He said his client is being treated for cancer and he asked for time to address these health concerns.