A Mayo man who indecently assaulted two of his sisters in the 1970s and 1980s has been given a three year sentence, with the final year suspended.
The 55-year-old accused man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was convicted by a jury last July at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Castlebar of seven counts of indecent assault on dates between 1977 and 1984. He has no previous convictions.
The sentencing regime pertaining to these offences was amended in 1981 raising the maximum sentence from two years imprisonment, applicable to the earlier offences, to ten years imprisonment which is applicable to the final offences in this case.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt noted that the offending may be at the lower end of the spectrum but said that did not preclude great harm being caused to the victims. He said it was a sad case and a great tragedy for all concerned.
He noted that the accused man would be stigmatised in his community and that his own family had been left in an ‘unenviable position’.
Mr Justice Hunt noted yesterday at the sentencing in Dublin that the complaints had been first raised during the 1990s and the accused man was now being called upon to serve a sentence three or four decades after the offence. He also noted that if the sentence had been imposed 15 years ago he may have received a more lenient sentence.
He imposed concurrent sentences ranging from three months to three years. He suspended the final year of the total three year sentence.
Mr Justice Hunt said it was his intention that the suspended portion of the three year sentence should only be reactivated if the accused man committed a further sexual offence.
The man will also be subject to the notification provisions of the sex offenders act 2001, commonly known as the sex offenders register.
A local garda told Tara Burns, SC, prosecuting, that the younger victim was 15 years-old on the occasion she was assaulted by her brother in the summer of 1984. Her brother was 25 years old at the time.
The assault was witnessed by a second brother who had come into the room to find the accused on top of his sister on the bed. Her top was off and she was pushing him away with her arms.
The remaining six counts referred to assaults on a second sister between 1977 and 1982 while she was between the ages of 16 and 22 years-old. The accused man was aged between 17 and 23.
The accused man came into the bedroom she shared with the other victim at night and placed his hand under the blankets to feel around her breast area but did not make skin to skin contact.
Complaints were made to the gardai by the women in 2011 and the accused man was arrested and interviewed. He denied the allegations.
The younger victim said she had been greatly affected. She said she was afraid all the time as she was growing up and felt she could not invite friends to the house because of her brother.
She said she had fallen asleep in school as she had tried to stay awake at night to avoid abuse. She had spent 15 years in counselling, had difficulties in relationships and had suicidal thoughts.
The woman said even now she was afraid of him and suffered nightmares about him coming to get her. Her older sister said she had felt ‘guilt, blame and shame’ when she found out in 1999 that her sister had also been abused by the accused. She said she felt guilty for not doing anything to stop it.
The garda agreed with Michael Bowman, SC, defending, that since the offences had become known in his community the accused had lost his job. She agreed that allegations were made known to the HSE in 1999 but the accused was not deemed a risk to his family and no action was taken.
She agreed that there had been no other allegations forthcoming against the man.
Mr Bowman asked the court to take into account the man’s age, his previous good character, and the lapse of time since his offending.
At the original sentence hearing earlier this month Mr Bowman submitted that the offending was at the lower end of the scale and there had been no suggestion of physical violence.
Justice Hunt said he would take that into account but noted that even offences at the lower end of the scale could have appalling consequences. He also noted that the offences could have ‘ripple effects’ on innocent parties.
“There is no such thing as a trivial or not serious case of sexual assault but they have to be placed on the scale,” said Justice Hunt.