A sexual predator, whose victim believed he had built a shed in his garden for the purpose of committing sex assaults against her, has complained that the eight-and-a-half-year sentence he received for the abuse carried out over a 12-year period is too severe.
The man – who cannot be named for legal reasons – was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years with four years suspended at Sligo Circuit Criminal Court in November 2020 after he pleaded guilty to 23 counts of sexual assault against his victim between September 1999 and May 2011.
At the sentencing hearing, the victim – who is now in her 30s – told Judge Francis Comerford the attacks started when she was 10 years old.
She said she had been “terrified” of her abuser and was left “paralysed by fear” during the attacks.
Now aged 67 and suffering from ill health, the man has launched an appeal against the severity of the sentence imposed by Judge Comerford.
Eileen O’Leary SC, for the appellant, told the Court of Appeal on Friday that while she did not want to detract from the seriousness of the offending, or the impact it had on the victim, she was submitting that the sentence handed down had been “excessive and contained an error in principle”.
The custodial term was “disproportionate and outside the norm”, she said, and did not adequately reflect the mitigating circumstances.
She said her client had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had made admissions to the child protection agency Tusla even before a complaint had been made to gardaí.
The man, Ms O’Leary added, had no previous convictions and no history of wrongdoing prior to these offences and had offered a public apology to the victim.
Leo Mulrooney BL, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, told the three-judge court that the abuse was disclosed to the authorities when the victim reached her late 20s.
The woman, Mr Mulrooney said, provided four “substantive statements”, which ran for 29 pages and which detailed the nature of the allegations against the man.
“From age of 11 onwards, the abuse mostly took place in the appellant’s car,” Mr Mulrooney told the court.
“Thereafter, it was in his house at a time when he arranged to take her into her care and do cookery with her.”
In one incident, counsel said the victim had been dragged to a bathroom and locked in before being forced to perform a sexual act for her abuser.
Mr Mulrooney also told the court that the appellant would carry out attacks in a garden shed and that the victim believed he had built the shed with this purpose in mind.
“Over the years she has been prescribed medication for anxiety, had developed an unhealthy relationship with food, had been self-harming as a teenager and had frequent thoughts of ending her life,” he said.
The sentence imposed displayed “a generous acknowledgement of the mitigating factors and fell within the judge’s margin of appreciation”, he added.
Judgment has been reserved.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800 77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.