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Rapist given ‘extraordinarily lenient’ sentence because he can't speak English has term increased

Mr Justice Birmingham said that a probation report describing Costel Pirvu's attitude towards his victim was "very disturbing”.

Prison. Stock image© Getty Images/EyeEm

Paul NeilanSunday World

A high-risk sex offender who raped a woman with a mild intellectual disability three times after grabbing her on a side-street late at night has had his jail term increased, with the Court of Appeal finding that the discount he received for being a non-English speaker in an Irish prison was "excessive". Returning judgement yesterday, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the court also found it surprising that the trial judge had placed "little emphasis" on the fact that Costel Pirvu (39) has a previous conviction for attempted rape.

Mr Justice Birmingham said that a probation report describing Pirvu's attitude towards his victim was "very disturbing", with the reporting finding that he displayed no remorse or empathy and on occasion took a derogatory view of the victim.

He said the court would quash the original jail sentence of six-and-a-half years and substitute it with a sentence of ten years' imprisonment with the final year-and-a-half suspended.

Pirvu, formerly of Kilreekill, Loughrea, Co Galway, was found guilty of three counts of rape and one of false imprisonment after a nine-day trial at the Central Criminal Court last year.

He had pleaded not guilty on all counts and was jailed for six and a half years.

At Pirvu's trial, Detective Garda Adrian Fehily told Éilis Brennan SC, prosecuting, that the offence took place at a town in the west of Ireland in the early hours of February 4, 2018.

The woman, who was 19 at the time, had been socialising with some friends who walked her halfway home.

She told gardaí she saw a man she didn’t know looking at her and she ran, but he grabbed her and forced her against a black jeep and then to the ground.

The court heard he took off her pants and raped her even though she struggled to escape, receiving injuries and bruises to her arms, legs and back.

Pirvu refused to let her go home, threatened her and forced her to go back to his apartment.

She said she felt if she didn’t do what he wanted, he would hurt her.

CCTV footage showed Pirvu and the victim walking back towards his apartment, where she told gardaí he raped her twice further and finally let her go the next morning when a flat-mate of his walked in and demanded that she be freed.

After a Court of Appeal hearing earlier this week, Ms Brennan successfully argued on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions that Pirvu's sentence had been unduly lenient.

Counsel said Pirvu unduly benefited in mitigation because the trial judge had factored in his status as a foreign national with no English, which would make prison life more difficult for him.

Ms Brennan said the trial judge said every day in prison for Pirvu would be like a day and a half for an English-speaking person.

Ms Brennan said the trial judge "came up with a formula that it would be 50 per cent more severe for him than a local", which amounted to an "extremely high" discount.

Counsel said she was not taking issue with the headline sentence of 10 years but that the discount of three-and-a-half years was "extraordinary".

She added that Pirvu had previous violent convictions from his time in Romania and Germany.

Ms Brennan said Pirvu only claimed to gardaí that he had consensual sex with his victim after they told him his DNA had been discovered on her body.

Mr Justice Birmingham, presiding, said the three-judge court would increase the sentence to 10 years' imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended.

"In our view, the sentence of ten years arrived at represented the absolute minimum that could have been considered.

"A starting sentence of 12 or 12-and-a-half years might well have been identified.

"Leaving to one side the fact that the respondent is a non-English speaker, he really had very little going for him in terms of mitigation," said Mr Justice Birmingham.

"He [Pirvu] had a significant prior criminal record, including, most notably, a conviction for attempted rape, a fact on which, surprisingly, little emphasis was placed by the trial judge.

"There was no plea of guilty or expression of remorse. What the probation report had to say about his attitude to his victim is very disturbing.

"We agree with the trial judge that the fact of being a non-English speaker would make the sentence more difficult for the respondent, as does the fact that it is not possible for family members to make visits.

"This provided a basis for some reduction in sentence but we are firmly of the view that the reduction proposed by the trial judge was, to a considerable extent, excessive," said the judge.

"Being of the view that the ultimate sentence from the Central Criminal Court of six-and-a-half years was, to a significant extent, unduly lenient, we will quash that sentence and substitute a sentence of ten years' imprisonment but with the final year-and-a-half suspended," said Mr Justice Birmingham.

Mr Justice Birmingham also noted that the probation report described Pirvu as being "at a very high risk of sexual offending in the next 12 months".

"The probation report notes that throughout the various interviews undertaken with the respondent, he showed no remorse towards the victim of the offence, displayed no empathy towards the victim or understanding of the harm caused by his actions.

"His view of the victim was, on occasions, derogatory and he became both angered and frustrated when questioned regarding aspects of his sexual offending as part of the assessment process," said the judge.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the increased sentence would be backdated to August 7, 2018, when Pirvu first went into custody.

Bernard Madden SC, for Pirvu, had argued that the trial judge was acting within her discretion regarding the mitigation and that his client had been in custody since August 2018.

During that time, the only person to visit his client was his solicitor, said Mr Madden.

Mr Madden said the trial judge was minded to take a view of Pirvu's personal circumstances and that his client had medical concerns.

The barrister added that Pirvu would not be able to partake in English-speaking counselling or courses while in prison.

The trial heard that after she was freed, the woman ran home crying and upset and told her mother, who brought her to the garda station to make a complaint and then to a Sexual Assault and Treatment Unit (SATU).

A SATU report established that the victim had sustained bruises and scrapes to her face, back, breasts, arms, legs and genital area, including a 2mm laceration to her urethra.

In sentencing Pirvu, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy noted Pirvu raped the woman on the street with force and then took her to his home and raped her twice more in circumstances where she felt under threat.

She said Pirvu has a history of violent offending, including convictions for robbery, attempted rape, house-breaking and assault.

Ms Justice Murphy had said that although the woman was a vulnerable person, there was no evidence Pirvu was aware of this fact and that he had never met her before. It was a “chance encounter” the judge said.

She handed down a 10-year sentence and suspended the final three-and-a-half years.

The court heard Pirvu was arrested and that his apartment was searched and a DNA sample taken.

He initially denied having met the victim or having left his apartment that night, but when gardaí later told him his semen sample matched DNA found on the victim’s body, he said his solicitor had told him to deny everything.

He then admitted meeting the woman but said she had voluntarily gone back to his house where they had had consensual sex.

In a victim impact report read out in court on her behalf, the victim said she felt everything in her life had been going against her since “that horrible night”.

She said the accused came behind her, grabbed her and dragged her down the street and kept putting his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t breathe and feared for her life.

“I felt like a piece of meat,” she wrote in her victim impact report. “I tried to fight him and I tried to run away but he was much stronger, he said he was going to kill me if I didn’t do what he wanted me to do.”

The woman said she has told her counsellor that although the bruises on the outside were healing, “something on the inside of me was broken and could never be fixed”.

The court heard that she doesn’t feel safe anymore and is all the time watching for who’s behind her.

She said she cannot eat or sleep properly and suffers with PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks.

She said she had become very depressed and suicidal and was self-harming, telling the court that she felt that her life was no longer her own.

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