Isabel Hayes and Sonya McLean
A man who orally raped and sexually abused his half-sister when they were teenagers has been jailed for four years.
The crimes committed by Thomas Sheehan (37) against his sister came to light when he wrote two letters to gardaí confessing that he had sexually abused her when they were children.
Sheehan, of no fixed abode in Tipperary, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to one count of orally raping his sister and five counts of sexually assaulting her in various locations in Clonmel, Co Tipperary between April 2000 and April 2002. He was aged between 14 and 16 at the time and his younger sister was aged between 12 and 14.
His sister, Edel Sheehan, waived her right to anonymity so her abuser could be named.
The court heard the siblings grew up in circumstances of “extreme neglect, poverty and violence”. “They never had a chance,” Colman Cody SC, defending, told the court.
Sentencing Sheehan on Monday, Mr Justice David Keane expressed his sympathies to Ms Sheehan for the “psychological pain and suffering she has experienced” and commended her for “her resilience”.
He said he had taken into account the fact that Sheehan had “initiated the investigation into his offending behaviour” through his voluntary confession to gardaí. Mr Justice Keane also noted that Sheehan had written a letter of apology to his sister and expressed his remorse.
Breach of trust
The judge said the crimes committed by Sheehan represented a significant breach of trust on a vulnerable victim, which had caused her considerable harm. He also noted that it involved “a pattern of repeated sexual offences”.
Mr Justice Keane took into account various case law surrounding the Children Act in relation to the sentencing of minors after noting that Sheehan had been a teenager at the time he abused his sister. He said such case law suggests that the sentence should be reduced to between a half or a third of what the accused would have got had he been an adult committing the crimes.
Mr Justice Keane said this led him to impose a headline sentence of six years. He reduced that to four years taking into account mitigating factors including Sheehan’s plea of guilty, which spared his sister “the anxiety of the potential ordeal of having to give evidence at trial”.
He imposed concurrent two-year sentences for the remaining offences and imposed a one-year post release supervision order, ordering that Sheehan engage with the Probation Service for a year upon his ultimate release from prison.
Detective Garda Patrick O'Gorman told Jane McCudden BL, prosecuting, that in March 2020, gardaí in Clonmel received a letter from Sheehan in which he said he wished to confess to a crime from the early 2000s and that he had sexually “molested” his sister Edel. Sheehan was in prison at the time.
Sheehan sent gardaí a follow-up letter in April in which he stated he would go to GSOC and various other bodies if no action was taken in relation to his confession.
When Det Gda O'Gorman made contact with Ms Sheehan and told her about the contents of the letter, she became emotional and started retching, the court heard. She told Det Gda O'Gorman that she had been saying for years that she was abused by her bother, but no-one believed her.
“It was almost a sense of relief,” Det Gda O'Gorman told the court.
In a statement to gardaí, Ms Sheehan outlined how she was in her bedroom at the age of 13 when Sheehan came in, shoved her down and forced her to give him oral sex. Afterwards, she ran to the bathroom and vomited, the court heard.
The court heard the siblings' mother died when they were aged seven and nine and they were in state care and the care of relatives.
Ms Sheehan had no other memories of sexual abuse, but when interviewed by gardaí, her brother outlined a number of occasions when he sexually assaulted her.
He has 29 previous convictions, including criminal damage, threat to kill, assault and possession of a knife.
In her victim impact statement, which was read out by the garda, Ms Sheehan said her brother left her “traumatised and vulnerable”.
“He sexualised me at a very young age when I should have been a child, far removed from this abuse,” Ms Sheehan said. She said the abuse has had long-lasting impacts on her relationships and her family members, as well as her mental health.
“I will never forgive him for what he has done,” she said.
Mr Cody, defending Sheehan, said his client came from an extremely dysfunctional background and that the siblings had “nothing” growing up. He submitted that apart from the incident of oral rape, Sheehan was never physically violent or intimidating towards his sister.
Sheehan had a stroke when in prison, which prompted him to write his letters of confession. He has converted to Islam, the court heard.
Sheehan took the stand at his sentence hearing to read out a letter of apology to his sister, in which he said he hoped she could forgive his delay in facing up to his offending. “I hope this brings you peace,” Sheehan said. Ms Sheehan left court before her brother took the stand.
The court heard Sheehan has been in court on this matter since December last year. Prior to being in prison for various other crimes, he was homeless, the court heard.
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.