Man who exploited special needs student (15) he 'groomed' online has sentence reduced

The man came into contact with the student on an adult dating website
The man came into contact with the student on an adult dating website

A 51-year-old man jailed for sexually exploiting a special needs student (15) he 'groomed' online, according to gardaí, and met on his lunchbreak, has had his prison sentence reduced on appeal.

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had pleaded guilty at Naas Circuit Criminal Court to one count of sexual exploitation of a child at a known location on December 23 2010.

He was sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final two suspended by Judge Michael O'Shea on December 2 2014.

The Court of Appeal considered the six year starting point was “simply too high” and resentenced the man to four years imprisonment with the final two suspended today.

Mr Justice John Edwards, giving the judgment, said the 15-year-old third year student had a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and had a special needs assistant assigned to him in school.

He came into contact with the man on an adult dating website in or around October 2010. They communicated by phone calls and text messages and the messages were sexualised in nature, Mr Justice Edwards said.

Before long they were texting each other on a daily basis and the investigating garda described this as a 'grooming operation', the judge said.

After a short time it was agreed they'd meet up with the victim telling gardai that the plan in meeting up was 'intentionally to have sex, I guess that is what he wanted'.

They arranged to meet on December 23 2010, during the victim's lunch break from school.

Having met outside a local shop, the man drove out of the town and pulled in on the side of the road.

When the boy avoided being kissed by pretending that he was receiving a call, the man told him to 'turn off the f***ing phone, just let me f*** you and I'll bring you straight back to school,' the judgment stated.

The man asked if he could touch the boy's penis a number of times to which the boy said no three times before eventually agreeing.

He opened the boy's zip and rubbed the boy's penis while the boy rubbed his outside of the trousers.

The boy said he felt paranoid that every passing car might be his parents and felt sick when he got back to school.

As the man brought him back to school, by driving straight into the school grounds, the boy said he was told to not tell anyone 'because you'll be in just as much trouble as I will'.

The man sent a further message and there was evidence the man planned to meet the boy a second time but the boy failed to turn up because he was afraid.

The last contact from the man was on the date the boy called Childline, Mr Justice Edwards said.

Following the incident the victim became worried, upset and withdrawn. He had suicidal ideation, had left a note and took an overdose of tablets from which he “nearly died”, the judge said.

“He seeks to attribute his attempts at self harm to the appellant's exploitation of him” but the court had no evidence placed before it to assess that attribution, Mr Justice Edwards said.

The sentencing court heard the man was a single, gay man living with his mother at the time.

He had a good employment record and was at the time working in a filling station. He had no previous convictions.

His siblings, who had been unaware of the issues with his sexuality, have supported him and arranged for him to obtain counselling and therapy, the judge said.

His sister described how he had had a difficult childhood due to a speech impediment and was benefitting greatly from counselling and therapy. She stated that he now has a more appropriate social life living as an openly gay man which allows him to make friendships with people of appropriate ages.

Satisfied that the sentencing court attached too much weight to the aggravating factors, Mr Justice Edwards said the judge "over assessed the seriousness" of the offence.

While there were some serious aspects to the case, he said it was not a case that fell on the higher side of the mid range.

He said the trial judge's starting point of six years imprisonment was "simply too high in our judgment".

The offending conduct, though significantly culpable in terms of the age disparity, involved one victim, one actual meeting and did not involve physical violence, gross humiliation or “anything penetrative”.

Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon resentenced him to four years imprisonment with the final two suspended.

Ruaidhrí Giblin