A 58-year-old Mayo man who pleaded guilty to two cases of sexual assault against his nephew in the mid 1990s received a five-year suspended sentence at Castlebar Circuit Court last Wednesday.
The accused, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was charged with two counts of sexual assault on dates between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1995. His nephew was aged between three and five years of age at that time.
Garda Peter Sarsfield told the court that the matter came to light when the victim called to a garda station at 1pm on March 20, 2010, with friends to tell Garda Sarsfield about the incidents. However he did not make a statement at the time.
Garda Sarsfield said that the following September, the victim saw his uncle while out socialising and became upset. As a consequence, he called to the local garda station on September 14 to make a full, written statement.
Garda Sarsfield told the court that the victim would occasionally stay at his grandmother’s house where his uncle also resided at the time. On two occasions he recalled waking up during the night to find his uncle in a high state of arousal attempting to have anal sex with him.
In a victim-impact statement, which was read to the court by Garda Sarsfield, the victim, now aged 22, said although he was too young at the time of the incident to understand what was going on, he still knew it was wrong. He said that he told his mother about it but nothing was done. He lost trust in his family as a result.
Describing his uncle’s actions as ‘unforgivable’, the victim said he had abused alcohol from the age of 15, and that it was this that brought back all the memories. He added that he had started to cut himself to relieve the pain, and that he also took drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. He added that he tried to take his own life on a number of occasions, adding he would now be ‘dead and buried’ if it were not for the help and support of his brother.
He said he started to deal with the problem when he went to his GP who sent him to an abuse counsellor, and that he wouldn’t have been able to proceed with the prosecution if it were not for the help of Garda Sarsfield.
He said he was relieved when he heard that his uncle admitted the offences, as he felt then he could begin to move on with his life. Garda Sarsfield told the court that the victim seems to be ‘a changed man’ since guilt was admitted.
It emerged that the victim’s father had brought the accused down to court on Wednesday last. Garda Sarsfield was asked by defending counsel, Eoin Garavan, instructed by Cathy McDarby, whether this indicated family support for the accused. Garda Sarsfield replied that the victim’s father was ‘between a rock and a hard place’, as he was looking out for his son firstly, but his brother was also involved.
Mr Garavan told the court that the accused had left a female partner in England in 1990 to come home to tend to the family farm when his father died. The court heard that he became lonely, and that the incident may have been born out of sexual frustration. Mr Garavan said the incident wasn’t at the higher end of the scale of sexual assaults, in that there was no penetration or physical pain, but added that the psychological pain was apparent.
He said his client has a drink issue and was on anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication, but added that a probation report showed him to be at a low risk of reoffending. He also said that his client was very stressed, anxious and had shown genuine remorse. He said his client was in a relationship with a woman in the UK, and he asked Judge Rory MacCabe to consider not incarcerating him as it would be ‘very traumatic’ given the background mental health issues and his age.
The defendant himself addressed the court, saying ‘I want to apologise wholeheartedly’.
Judge MacCabe said that the maximum sentence for this offence is 14 years. He said that this case had clearly had a great effect on the victim and the offences were ‘obviously disgusting’.
Judge MacCabe added that it was ‘clear’ from the victim impact statement that the victim attributes his ills to both his uncle and his family who, he said, ‘effectively ignored him’ when he told them what happened.
He said that a guilty plea had spared the victim the ordeal of a trial and that he believed the accused was remorseful. He added that he was ‘satisfied’ that the interests of justice do not require a jail sentence. He sentenced the accused to five years’ imprisonment, suspending the entirety of the term on the condition the accused does not return to Ireland within that time.