A 67-year-old former Fianna Fáil councillor has been jailed for five years for sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl who was on a sleepover at his home with several other children.
Hannah Beresford, who waived her right to anonymity, told Cork Circuit Criminal Court that she had not understood why her friend’s father was hurting her in the dark as she slept in a bedroom with two other girls.
Detective Garda Mairead Morrissey said Hannah only ever stayed at the home of John Hussey on one occasion. It was also her first ever sleepover of any kind. Eight or nine children were staying overnight with the children being divided into two bedrooms.
Poignantly, Judge Catherine Staines heard that Hannah initially thought that Hussey, who is a retired solicitor, was tucking her in before she realised it was something more sinister.
Ms Beresford was in a bedroom with two other girls having changed in to her nightgown. A number of other girls were in pyjamas. Dt Garda Morrissey said that Hannah recalled that her nightgown was blue with a rabbit or bear on it.
The children had been put to bed and after a little bit of running around and chatting the children went to sleep.
Det Garda Morrissey said that Hannah was still awake, and she remembered the door being ajar and the light coming in from the landing.
“She remained awake as the chatting died down. She was trying to go to sleep, and she heard footsteps in the room. She was aware someone was at the end of the bed. She opened her eyes and could see her friend’s father. He stood towards the side of the bed.
"She saw him put his left hand under the covers of the bed and on to his left leg. He started squeezing her knee. She thought initially that he was tucking her in mistakenly. He was squeezing her leg and moved up towards her vagina. He was rubbing it a while. She said it felt like ages. He (Hussey) moved closer to her, and she remembered thinking that something was very wrong."
Dt Garda Morrissey said that Hussey put his finger in the vagina of the child. The child felt pain and yelped and Hussey stopped what he was doing.
“She (Hannah) said ‘I opened my eyes because of the pain. He (Hussey) was crouching a bit. He was trying to make himself as small as he could. He was in the half crouching position for maybe two or three minutes and then left.”
The youngster went to the bathroom in pain. She wanted to go home, but that would have involved having to call the accused or his "wife.”
The court heard that Hannah told her mother what had occurred. She did everything in her power to assist her young daughter. She approached a principal, a doctor and solicitor for advice. The Southern Health Board and gardaí were also notified.
The family were in a quandary as they were worried that it would be too upsetting for Hannah to give a statement.
Ms Beresford received a huge amount of support from her close-knit family over the years. She confided in a few friends about what occurred.
In 2015 Hannah, who was then studying at Trinity College Dublin, wrote an article in a college newspaper about what had occurred to her. She didn’t name the accused.
In December 2020 Ms Beresford made a statement. On April 27th, 2021, Hussey was arrested. The former Mayor of Fermoy and chairman of Fermoy Urban District Court Court invoked his right to stay silent. However, he had a pre-prepared statement where he denied assaulting the complainant.
In January of this year Hussey, formerly of Corrin View in Fermoy, Co Cork pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting Ms Beresford on a date between November 1st and 7th, 2003. Hussey, who has no previous convictions, voluntarily entered custody pending his sentencing hearing.
Hussey had indicated in writing his intention to plead guilty to the charge when the case came before the court. He had been charged with sexual assault of the girl contrary to Common Law and Section 2 of the Criminal Law Rape Amendment Act, 1990.
Victim impact statement
Hannah Beresford made her victim impact statement in person. She said that she had never been treated with “unkindness or cruelty” until she went to the sleepover at Hussey’s house.
“During the assault itself, my initial reaction was confusion, swiftly followed by fear. I did not understand what was happening, why my friend's father was hurting me in the dark.
"I had never experienced a situation where the adult in charge of me did not have my best interests at heart. Some part of me hoped there was an explanation for what was happening, that perhaps this was part of some unusual bedtime routine, and I didn't need to be afraid; but the larger part of me knew that what was happening to me was fundamentally wrong.
"I also knew that I could do little to stop it. I knew that I was experiencing something dark and scary and painful. I knew that I was not safe. As I got older, I started to better understand the nature of what happened to me. That understanding brought a greater sense of horror and shame.”
Ms Beresford said that the trauma of what occurred to her as an eight-year-old child impacted on her romantic relationships as she became a young woman.
As a teenager she saw a news item about the charity One in Four which supports adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She realised then that there were other people out there who had endured something similar to her.
“The name of the organisation struck me like a thunderbolt. I had always assumed that what had happened to me was unusual in its cruelty, but then I realised that was not the case.
"I started to count the number of people in any room, divide it in to quarters and wonder who else had an experience like mine. I felt the heaviness of silence around sexual assault.”
Ms Beresford underwent many years of counselling following what occurred to her, and she attributed mental health difficulties she endured to the trauma that Hussey had inflicted on her.
She thanked her family and friends for their “extraordinary love and support". Ms Beresford paid particular tribute to her parents whom she said instantly believed her and gave her every support.
“Over the years, I have thoughts of this as an earthquake. I may sit at the epicentre, but the disaster zone extends beyond me, out to the people that I love. They should never have been subjected to this, and I will never forgive the impact it has had on them.”
She added that her family had carried her through the pain of what had occurred when she could not carry herself.
Kate Aherne, BL for the defendant, said that her client had entered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity and that he deeply regretted the pain he caused Ms Heresford. She said that it was a “momentary lapse of judgement.”
Judge Staines noted that Hussey was the full time carer for his mother who has Alzheimer’s and that he had suffered a marital breakdown as well as a loss of his reputation.
She stressed that it wasn’t a minor sexual assault and categorised it as being at the higher end of the mid range.
Judge Staines said that Hussey “had violated the bodily integrity” of the child and “caused her pain".
She described Hannah Beresford as a “very brave lady” who had delivered an eloquent victim impact statement.
She jailed Hussey for six years suspending the final year of the sentence and backdating it to January of this year when the defendant first entered custody.