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Serial sex offender from Dublin has life sentence reduced on appeal

The man successfully appealed his sentence yesterday with the Court of Appeal
The man successfully appealed his sentence yesterday with the Court of Appeal

A serial sex offender, who opened a sweet shop under an alias where he employed young children, has had his life sentence for abusing an 11-year-old boy reduced by the Court of Appeal.

The 40-year-old Dublin man, who cannot be named to protect the victim's identity, had pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to fourteen sample counts of sexual assault and defilement of the boy when he was aged 11 at locations in Dublin between December 2008 and June 2009.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment by Mr Justice Paul Carney on July 7, 2014.

The man successfully appealed his sentence yesterday with the Court of Appeal holding that his three year effort to rehabilitate himself prior to being sentenced “moved the case out of that small category for which maximum sentences would be appropriate”.

His life sentence was accordingly reduced to 15 years imprisonment.

The man's barrister, Caroline Biggs SC, submitted to the three-judge court that life sentences were reserved for the worst imaginable variety of offending and “this was not one of those cases”.

The court heard that the man had previous convictions for sexual abuse as well as circumventing his obligations under the sex offenders register.

In this instance, he had moved into the community, opened a “grocery sweet shop” under an alias, employed a number of young children, groomed a vulnerable boy and abused him.

There had been a murder in the area and gardaí took an interest in everybody in the community.

If there hadn't been that murder, Mr Justice George Birmingham remarked during counsel's submissions, the man might have been able to continue his abuse indefinitely.

The abuse involved oral sex and mutual masturbation. It had a very significant affect on the victim who subsequently attempted suicide and self harm.

The man had 24 previous convictions, six of which related to sexual offences: Two for sexually assaulting a boy in 2006 for which he received a two year sentence; One for failing to notify the gardaí of a change in address in 2008 and 2009 and three for sexually assaulting two young boys in 2007 for which he received four year jail term.

Mr Justice Birmingham said there were factors present which made the consideration of a life sentence inevitable.

These included the young age of the victim, the duration of the abuse, the presence of directly relevant previous convictions and the circumvention of obligations under the sex offenders' register which wasn't inadvertent.

The notion of a repeat sex offender opening a shop under an alias, employing local children and thus putting himself in a position to abuse was “too awful to contemplate”, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

There were good reasons why the courts were reluctant to impose maximum sentences. It is very much in the interests of victims that offenders should be incentivised to plead guilty and plead guilty early, the judge said.

There is also the utilitarian argument that pleading guilty assisted the administration of justice.

It was submitted by Ms Biggs that the sentencing judge not only ignored but positively dismissed expert evidence on the man's efforts to rehabilitate himself by the time he came to be sentenced.

In one report, the man outlined how he himself had been a victim of abuse between the ages of eight and 12. In one instance the abuser was identified as a priest and in another instance a male PE teacher.

The man had commented to a clinical psychologist that he hoped his victim would not “turn out” like he did, Mr Justice Birmingham said. An expert found that indicative of insight into the offences, his own behaviour and its seriousness.

Particularly significant, Mr Justice Birmingham said, was the evidence of an official involved in delivering the Building Better Lives sex offenders programme, which is provided in Arbour Hill prison. The official's evidence was clear that the man had engaged fully with the programme for three years prior to being sentenced.

In the Court of Appeal's view, the work that was taken towards rehabilitation was a significant factor that moved the case out of that small category for which maximum sentences would be appropriate, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

To that extent the sentence imposed involved an error in principle. But a “very significant” sentence was still called for.

In re-sentencing the man, the Court of Appeal had regard to material from Arbour Hill where the man was reportedly “doing well”.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, set aside the life sentence for defilement and in its place imposed 15 years imprisonment.

In respect of the sentences imposed for sexual assault, the court imposed sentences of 11 years imprisonment.

The sentences were to run concurrently and were to commence from the original date of March 2014.

Ms Biggs outlined other cases where maximum sentences for sexual offences were imposed.

In her clients case there was no violence or threats of violence, the abuse occurred over six months and was without aggravating factors that were present elsewhere.

In 'Z', Ms Biggs said a father abused multiple victims involving acts of deprivation and threats to kill. The accused had 87 previous convictions including the sexual abuse of another daughter where two children resulted from the abuse.

In another case where life was imposed, there were six victims.

In the 'Athlone' case, a nine and six-year-old girl were brought away from a green area and made to suffer extreme acts. The case was “appalling”, she said.

Finally, she referred to a “depraved and perverse” case involving a young girl aged between five and eight, who was tortured and raped in a shed behind her house with a dog collar for three years.

Notwithstanding the horror of those offences, the accused in that case did not receive a life sentence, Ms Biggs said.

It was “difficult to reconcile that” with the life sentence imposed on her client, Ms Biggs said. It was “not possible to say” her client's case was the “worst case imaginable”.