Shortly after Dean Ward (36) and Sinéad O'Neill met on an online dating site in May 2019 Ward had effectively moved himself into the woman's home in Killybegs, Co. Donegal. Ward used lies and emotional manipulation to insinuate himself into the life, Justice Kerida Naidoo said on Thursday.
During the next six weeks Ward repeatedly attacked Ms O'Neill, spraying Mace into her face, tying her up, choking her and then raping her, threatening her with a hammer and punching her in the face. He controlled her access to friends and family, took over her online banking and monitored her whereabouts, social media and mobile phone use and removed her contraceptive device as she slept.
At the Central Criminal Court Justice Naidoo suspended the final year of an 18 year sentence for the most serious rape offence. He imposed a four year term, to run concurrently, for the offence of coercive control, which has a maximum sentence of five years.
Speaking outside court Ms O'Neill said she was speaking out to show others that support was available. She said that she felt stuck in fear but that she received “amazing support” from the moment she reached out to gardai for help.
She said she hoped that her case would encourage anyone out there in an abusive relationship to seek help and confide in somebody. She said she believed that by getting Ward locked up she has saved other women from a similar ordeal.
Ward formerly of Ballintlea, Hollyfort, Gorey, Wexford was jailed in 2016 for four years for falsely imprisoning and assaulting a young mother in November 2015. Ward and that woman had met on the internet dating website Plenty of Fish and Ward attacked her on their third date in the woman's own home.
Speaking after the hearing, Garda Superintendant Karen Duffy of Ballyshannon Garda Station said the offence of coercive control is a relatively new one and she would encourage any women or men in an abusive relationship to come to gardai.
Ward, also known as Dean Alexander Fowkes, used a different name on first meeting his victim.
He was convicted following a trial earlier this year of twelve offences; four assaults, one false imprisonment, one making a threat to kill, two counts of production of articles, three counts of rape and one count of coercive control on dates between June 11 and July 17, 2019.
The offences occurred between the woman meeting the man for the first time and his arrest by armed gardai at her home on July 17 2019. Ward does not accept the verdict of the jury and continues to maintain his innocence. He has been in custody since his arrest.
The ordeal only came to an end when Ms O'Neill's boss realised something was wrong and spoke to her and advised her to go to gardai. Justice Naidoo said that such was Ward's level of control that they had to come up with an escape plan to get her out of the house long enough for armed gardai to move in and arrest Ward.
Ward tried to get away but was caught jumping over a back wall, with a can of incapacitant spray on him. Ward told gardai during interview that they had a happy relationship and were planning for marriage and a baby.
Mr Justice Naidoo noted that the rapes took place in a controlling relationship and that consent was not freely given. He said the victim's acquiescence to sexual intercourse was secured by fear in circumstances where she was subjected to force before the rape or fear as a result of the cumulative effect of Ward's behaviour over time.
He said the first offence of rape was aggravated by violence and extreme degradation. After a row Ward had broken into Ms O'Neill's home, punched her in the face and told he was going to kill her.
He took her upstairs and pulled out a knife which he used to cut a towel into shreds. He then used the shreds to tie her up and began choking her from behind. Justice Naidoo said Ms O'Neill believed she was going to die and she lost control of her bladder.
Ward knew she had a particular fear of drowning and said he would do this. The woman's terror at this prospect was so great that she offered to take her own life by slitting her wrists, the judge said. Ward then raped her.
Justice Naidoo set a headline sentence of 18 years for this offence, the most serious of all the offending. He said there was virtually no mitigation but he suspended one year on condition that Ward obey the instructions of the Probation Service after his release.
He imposed lesser sentences on the other offences, all of which to run concurrently.
At his sentence hearing earlier in July Ms O'Neill told the court she had led a quiet, happy life and had wanted someone to share it with.
“It only took him six weeks to destroy me,” she said. She described how she had previously just wanted to be happy but now just wanted a life without fear.
The court heard that Ward, who stayed in her house, removed her contraceptive device as she slept and moved money around in her bank accounts. Analysis of phone records and Facebook showed that Ward sent the woman 100's of messages a day, 165 on one particular day.
Ward blocked and deleted hundreds of her Facebook friends, messaged her friends pretending to be her and dictated responses for her to send to friends asking if she was ok.
Ward only allowed Ms O'Neill to leave the house to go to work. She would have to take photographs of furniture and her feet to send to Ward while she was at work to prove she was there.
He also had photographs of her on his phone she was ashamed of and refused to delete them.
On one particular night Ms O'Neill, who had been trying to figure out how to get Ward out of her home without being hurt, described how she was “fully certain” she was going to die during a terrifying ordeal in which Ward brutally assaulted her in her own home.
Her boss later noticed her distress and said she should go to gardai. They formulated a way to communicate and she left the house that night pretending to go to work.
Armed gardai arrested Ward as he attempted to flee the house. He told them during interview they had a happy relationship and were planning for marriage and a baby.
Ms O'Neill described in her victim impact statement how she had led a quiet life until the time came when she wanted to find someone to share the next part of her life with. She said Ward was very charming and complimentary and seemed to be looking for the same thing as her.
She said what she had gone through at the hands of Ward was “life altering”, leaving her with immense fear, anxiety and paranoia which would haunt her for the rest of her life.
She continues to be in fear that Ward would locate her, despite gardai reassuring her he is in prison. She described jumping in fear and panic at household noises or a ring of the doorbell.
She said she had to know she had done everything she could to protect herself and her family from Dean Ward and the thought of another woman undergoing the same thing kept her going.
She still fears she will have to face Ward again and told the court the events might as well have just happened yesterday. She said the fear and terror he had left in her was as strong and present today as it had been at the time. She thanked friends, family, gardai and the legal team for their support.
Ward has nine previous convictions in this jurisdiction including a prior conviction in 2016 for false imprisonment and assault of a woman with whom he was in relationship in 2015. His other Irish convictions include escape from lawful custody, endangerment and criminal damage.
He also has convictions from the United Kingdom for offences including assault, robbery, criminal damage, attempting to gain by deception and possession of cannabis.
Sergeant Michael McHugh told Anne Rowland SC, prosecuting, that Ms O'Neill was interested at that time in meeting someone for company and got involved with a dating website.
Ward, using the surname Fowkes, instigated contact with her and purported to be from a nearby town. They arranged to meet, got on well and at the end of the evening he told her he had no car. He stayed at her home for a number of days before leaving to do a course.
The woman subsequently found out he was not living locally and was annoyed. She was considering not seeing him again and unplugged her phone that night after a series of messages.
The following morning the man came into her house while she was having a shower after telling her he had spent the night in her shed.
He started crying and begging her not to leave or cheat on him. She was upset and promised she would not as long as he did not tell any more lies.
As time went on Ms O'Neill became aware that while she was at work Ward was tracking her on her home laptop and could see her google searches. She also became aware he was messaging her friends pretending to be her. She felt her privacy was being violated.
The court heard Ward accessed her Facebook page and blocked or deleted hundreds of friends without her authority.
It soon became apparent Ward did not like her going anywhere but work and bombarded her with messages all day asking what she was doing and asking for photos to prove she was at work.
On June 11, two weeks after they first met and following an argument about messages on a phone, Ward sprayed Mace into Ms O'Neill's face. The following day while out shopping together she became aware her savings and current accounts were accessed by Ward and money moved around.
She became upset and on the car trip home tried to figure out how to get Ward out of her home without being hurt. At the house she was careful not to say she was breaking up with him but said she needed time out.
She told him she would not open her door unless he waited outside and eventually she got inside.
She went to get his belongings but heard a loud bang and saw him flying down the stairs. She slammed the door shut but he opened it and punched her in the head. He kept her face down on the ground with his hand on her neck for a time, asking if she was finished crying.
He brought her upstairs and told her to get onto the bed. As he paced in the room he told her he could not let her go and would have to kill her. She promised she would not go to gardai.
He told her the whole situation was her fault and she had pushed him to it. Ward tied her up and then asked for PIN number, which she eventually gave him. She was fully certain she was going to die. Ward later told her again he was going to kill her.
She said later out of no where he began to cry and said he couldn’t do it. She treated him like a child, telling him it was ok and he had not gone too far if he stopped now.
He untied her but she heard a bath running and he told her he knew she had a fear of dying by drowning or suffocation. She took this to mean he was going to drown her.
He tried to take her off the bed but she pushed back saying no. He then told her they would do it the “hard way” and she took this to mean he was going to suffocate her. She asked to take some melatonin tablets so she would be asleep and he allowed this.
Ward put his arm around her neck until she was unable to breath or speak, and she struggled a little but was in absolute despair and certain she was going to die. She prayed to family members who had passed on and finally lost control of her bladder.
When she wet herself Ward threw her to the ground and said to her in disgust: “You pissed everywhere.” She undressed and got into the bath with Ward, and despite him telling her “its ok, its over now” she felt he might still drown her.
He got ice for a large swelling on her head and she was very ill from the tablets. Ward had sex with her and she was disgusted but felt she had no choice as she did not want to trigger him and start the behaviour again.
The following day she went to work with lots of makeup on to cover marks on her face. Her throat was sore and voice raspy but she said Ward would not allow her go to a doctor.
Ward sent her messages that day encouraging her to lie about her obvious injuries: “Hope you make that story stick I don’t want drama.” The woman had told people Ward was on holidays that week.
Ward continued to remain in Ms O'Neill's home. He removed her contraceptive device as she slept, telling her he wanted her to get pregnant.
On June 22, 2019 while in a pub together someone bought the woman a drink and a friend later found her outside in an alleyway with Ward shouting at her for several minutes asking who had bought her a drink. The friend noticed marks on her face and asked her to come home with her.
Later that night Ward again produced the can of Mace and sprayed it over her head demanding to know who bought her a drink. Again the woman felt she had no option but to have sex with him.
Her friend texted her and Ward dictated answers indicating she had been drunk and was fine.
Ms O'Neill described how she would have to take photographs of furniture and her feet to send to Ward while she was at work to prove she was there. She said Ward had changed furniture in her house, painted rooms a colour she did not like and moved her clothes around.
Her boss at work invited her to an event and said she would have her brother pick her up. She noticed the woman’s anguish and distress at the thought of a man coming to the house to pick her up while Ward was there and following a conversation told the woman she should go to gardai.
They formulated a method of communication and later the boss texted the woman asking her to come to work for two hours. Ward was annoyed, demanded she video-call him once she got to work.
Ms O'Neill got to work, sent Ward a picture of the building and left her phone in her car in case he was tracking her location. She was in a state of extreme panic until gardai told her he was arrested.
Local gardai and the armed support unit had gone to the woman’s house to arrest Ward. They found him fleeing over a wall with a can of incapacitant spray and fighting his way through undergrowth. A taser was fired and while it missed, he dropped the can and was arrested.
Ward was interviewed and told gardai they had a great relationship and were planning to get married and have a baby. He denied raping her and said he had never laid a hand on her.
Vincent Heneghan SC, defending, said his client does not accept the verdict as brought in by the jury and maintains his innocence which limited what he could say.
Mr Heneghan said his client had a history of working and it was accepted his mother was a respectable person. He asked the sentence be backdated to when he went into custody.