A bar manager who was caught in possession of “stomach churning” files depicting children being sexually abused has been jailed for one year.
A laptop belonging to Matthew Johnstone (31) was seized by gardaí and found to contain 22 images and 13 videos of children between the ages of one and 12 years old being sexually and physically abused.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that one of these videos depicted an 18-month-old child being subjected to “elements of torture”.
Johnstone, of Brabazon House, Cork Street, Dublin city centre, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography at his home on November 19th, 2018. He has no previous convictions.
At a previous sentencing hearing, Judge Pauline Codd said the images were “stomach churning” even in describing them, “let alone viewing them”.
Passing sentencing on Tuesday, Judge Codd said one video which depicted an 18-month-old being subjected to “sustained and severe” physical and sexual abuse was the worst she had heard of in her nine years on the bench.
Judge Codd said the images and videos were significantly less in number than in many cases that come before the court. She said there was no evidence that the accused exchanged the images or gained commercially from them and gardaí accepted he did not view the full videos.
She said the case was aggravated by the particularly “deviant and depraved” nature of the material, in particular the noted video which depicted “elements of torture”. She said the youth of the children concerned was “particularly aggravating”.
The judge said the court has an obligation to protect children because they are “defenceless and young” from exploitative adults. She said it should never be forgotten that these are “real child victims”.
She said as the law currently stands, internet platforms are not held responsible and persons such as the accused exploit this lack of regulation. She said while the accused bears the guilt, this should be of concern to society in general.
Judge Codd sentenced Johnstone to three years' imprisonment, but suspended the final two years of the sentence on strict conditions, including that he follow all directions of the Probation Service for two years post release.
At the previous sentencing hearing, Detective Garda Tara Dolan told John Berry BL, prosecuting, that gardaí were informed by another police service of suspicious activity of an IP address which was linked to Johnstone's address on Cork Street.
Detective Garda Dolan said the apartment was searched and a number of electronic items were seized. Gardaí discovered that one laptop contained 22 images and 13 videos of children being sexually abused.
The images depicted girls between the age of four and 12 years old being sexually abused by adults. Eight of these images had been digitally altered to add a horse's genitalia to the image of a child being abused.
The videos depicted girls between the age of one and 10 years old being sexually abused by adults.
Four of the videos depicted the same 18-month-old baby being subjected to a variety of physical and sexual abuse by an adult woman, while another was described as being a “trailer” for these four videos.
Many of the images and videos were found in a recycle folder indicating that they had been deleted. Some of the material was found in system generated files which are created when files are viewed and are not ordinarily accessible to the user.
Gardaí discovered that in the laptop's search history, there was a search for a “TOR hidden service child pornography website”, which was used to access several of the video files.
Detetctive Garda Dolan agreed with Fiona Murphy SC, defending, that there had been “limited viewing” of the video files. She agreed that Johnstone had told gardaí he had been in contact with certain people over social media and became involved in the offending through this.
Ms Murphy said her client's marriage has broken down and he is “on the path” to being divorced.
She said he had been employed at a restaurant for over five years, but he left this employment after the offending came to light.
A previous court sitting heard Johnstone had worked as a bar manager.
Ms Murphy said her client is “genuinely sorry” and has turned away from this type of activity. She said he fully understands the seriousness of his actions and has attended two counsellors.
Counsel said the court has heard cases in which the number of files went into the hundreds or thousands. She noted this was not the case here and she asked the court to impose a non-custodial sentence.