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Man jailed for “serial sodomisation” of child (6) has sentence slashed

CourtsBy Sunday World
He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with the final five suspended
He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with the final five suspended

A Clare man jailed for the “serial sodomisation” of a six-year-old child over three years has had his 18 year prison sentence reduced to bring it into line with cases of a similar nature.

The twenty-six year old man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to one sample count each of section 4 rape and sexual assault of the girl between 2009 and 2012 in County Clare.

He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with the final five suspended by Mr Justice Tony Hunt on July 20, 2015.

In an appeal against sentence opened last month, the man's barrister, Michael Bowman SC, submitted that the starting point of 18 years was significantly out of line with sentences imposed in similar cases.

During counsel's submissions, the Court of Appeal heard the offences described as the “serial sodomisation” of a six to nine year old girl over three years.

Giving judgment today Mr Justice George Birmingham said a degree of caution was required when comparing sentences in one case with sentences in another.

He said cases vary significantly and even where cases appear similar at first sight, on closer examination, significant differences often emerge.

That said, with reference to a number of cases submitted to the Court of Appeal for consideration, the sentence in the present case was "to a significant extent, out of line with other sentences in this area”, the judge said.

It was the Court of Appeal's view that a starting point of 15 years rather than 18 was “more in keeping with sentences that have been imposed in other cases”.

“Such a starting sentence reflects the many aggravating factor present in this case, as any proper sentence must do,” the judge said.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the sentencing judge rightly stated that “considerable significance” had to be attached to the plea of guilty.

However, by addressing the guilty plea with a suspended sentence, the sentencing judge departed from the usual procedure, the judge said. Indeed, counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions accepted that this gave rise to a possible difficulty.

Having identified a sentence of 15 years as the starting point, the judge said it would have been more appropriate to reduce it to 12 to take account of the plea of guilty as well as other factors such as the man's relative youth, family circumstances and work history. He had no previous convictions for offences of this nature. 

Leaving in place the very substantial starting point, which was “among the very longest determinative sentences that has ever been imposed” and modifying it only by way of part suspension did not fully meet the situation, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

The court was told the man had made good progress while in prison in that he followed up on indications he had given regarding counselling and participation in available programs.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, said an error in principle in the original sentencing process had been disclosed.

The man was resentenced to 12 years imprisonment with the final two suspended for the rape offences.

In addition, the judge said it was appropriate that a sentence for sexual assault be less than that imposed rape. Accordingly the court substituted a sentence of eight years in respect of the sexual assault count which was to run concurrently.

The court also provided for two years post release supervision.

The man was required to enter into a good behaviour bond and he undertook to be so bound.

By Ruaidhrí Giblin