A martial arts instructor who sexually exploited three of his teenage students, harassing them for sex, groping them and kissing them, has been jailed for four years.
The 42-year-old Dublin man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his victims, became "obsessed" with the three girls he trained and threatened to throw them out of the gym and drop them from fights if they resisted his advances, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard on Monday.
He pleaded guilty to three counts of sexually exploiting the three girls, then aged between 13 and 14, on dates between September and October 2014.
The man was arrested shortly after the girls went to gardaí but moved to the UK in 2016 before he was charged with any offences.
While living in the UK, he was convicted for a driving offence and imprisoned. He was extradited back to Ireland in September last year.
He has a number of previous convictions, including for road traffic offences, damaging property and stealing.
Sentencing the man on Monday, Judge Martin Nolan said the accused engaged in a serious breach of trust and manipulated the situation, harassing the girls and playing them off each other.
"For whatever reason, he became obsessed with these three young girls and took advantage of their situation," he said.
The children were "three innocent victims", the judge said as he handed down a sentence of four years.
Detective Garda Ronan O'Reilly told Ger Small BL, prosecuting, that the three victims were friends who all trained together in the martial arts gym.
Over the course of two months, the instructor started sending all three children "creepy" texts every day, commenting on their physical appearance and saying he would like to have sex with them. He would touch their thighs and kiss them when he was dropping them home.
The girls said the man would get angry if they did not respond to his texts and would threaten to drop them from the gym.
One girl said he repeatedly touched her privates through her clothes. He asked her if he could "take her virginity from her", the court heard. He also got her to send him photos of herself in her underwear.
When dropping the girls home from fights, the man would pick one girl to drop off last and then kiss her in the car when it was stopped at traffic lights.
He repeatedly admonished another girl for "flinching" when he touched her and would get angry with her. He also kissed her in the car when dropping her home, which she described as "very awkward".
She was also afraid he would kick her out of the gym if she did not do what he wanted, the court heard.
The man told the third child he wanted to have a baby with her. She was "terrified" someone would find out about his advances, the court heard.
She told gardaí the man thought the three girls did not know about each other, but that they knew he "fancied" all of them and was texting them all every night. He told her to delete the messages, saying he would get in serious trouble if anyone else read them.
A victim impact statement was handed into court but not read aloud.
James Dwyer SC, defending, handed a psychological report into the court outlining the man's background.
The court heard he had a difficult childhood. He has a number of children with his wife, but that relationship broke down when his offending came to light.
He went on to have more children with another partner, who wrote a letter to the court describing him as a great dad.
The man told the psychologist he felt "sick" about the sexual exploitation he engaged in. In a letter of apology handed into the court, he said his behaviour was "disgraceful", adding he will never forgive himself.
The court heard he was sentenced to six years in jail in the UK, and served three years before being released. He has been in custody since he was extradited to Ireland last year.
Judge Nolan backdated the sentence to July last year to account for time served.
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.