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Retired garda sergeant convicted of sexual exploitation of a child avoids jail

Thomas O’Rourke engaged in conversation with an undercover officer who used the handle “LittleKittie13″ in a chat room

Retired Garda Sergeant Thomas O'Rourke (73) from Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, at Bray District Court. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin© Colin Keegan

Conor FeehanIndependent.ie

A retired garda sergeant has been given a suspended 18 month sentence after pleading guilty to a series of offences relating to child pornography and the sexual exploitation of a child.

Thomas O’Rourke (74) from Glencap Commons, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, pleaded guilty to engaging in sexualised conversations with undercover police purporting to be a young girl in an internet chat room.

A previous sitting of Wicklow Circuit Criminal Court heard that O’Rourke, who had a self-confessed addiction to online chat rooms, had admitted engaging in several online chats of a sexualised nature five years ago with a girl he believed to be aged 13.

The married father of two adult children pleaded guilty to two counts of the production of child pornography contrary to the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, by engaging in sexualised conversations with a child on July 28, 2017 and October 25, 2017.

The accused, who retired as a garda sergeant in 2003 after serving 34 years in the force, also pleaded guilty to two counts of using information and communication technology for the sexual exploitation of a child contrary to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act on August 2 and 4, 2017.

Detective Garda Gary Collins previously gave evidence that gardaí were alerted about a report of the sexual exploitation of a child online by Europol in September 2017.

Det Gda Collins said O’Rourke had come to the attention of police in south Wales who were conducting a covert operation online with undercover police officers.

The court heard that O’Rourke, who had the username “Tomrod”, engaged in conversation with an undercover officer who used the handle “LittleKittie13″ in a chat room on the Lycos Chat platform.

Det Gda Collins said the conversation started off with “nothing out of place” but quickly became “very sexualised”, adding such conversations with someone who had stated she was 13 years old constituted child pornography.

The court heard that O’Rourke had engaged in four separate conversations with LittleKittie13, with one lasting over an hour.

Det Gda Collins said the accused had provided his business email address to LittleKittie13 who had replied to it in case he wanted to send her photographs, but none were ever sent.

O’Rourke’s house was searched in February 2018 and a computer, laptop and two phones were seized.

Det Gda Collins said that when arrested, O’Rourke was adamant that he had no child pornographic material and the court heard that there was no evidence of any child pornography among a total of 123,806 images and videos found on the devices.

Under cross-examination by counsel for O’Rourke, Paul Murray SC, Det Gda Collins agreed that O’Rourke was “non-sophisticated” and “naive” in the way he had made no attempt to disguise his identity from LittleKittie13.

He agreed that O’Rourke’s use of chat rooms was predominantly for engaging with adult females and that he had never suggested any physical meeting with LittleKittie13.

Det Gda Collins confirmed that there had been no report of any inappropriate use of chat rooms by O’Rourke since the last offence in October 2017.

Although the offences were not at the highest level of crimes involving child pornography, Det Gda Collins said they still contained sexualised talk.

A psychologist and addiction therapist, Susan Byrne, previously gave evidence that O’Rourke had an addiction to online chat rooms, especially for sexualised conversations with adult females, which was triggered by loneliness and boredom after he had retired as a garda.

Dr Byrne said O’Rourke had had a relapse about his use of chat rooms since she began treating him in 2018 following his arrest.

The court heard he first recognised he had such an addiction in 2012.

At today’s sentencing hearing Judge Patrick Quinn said the latest report from Dr Byrne said that O’Rourke is somebody who is deeply remorseful and shameful of his behaviour and addiction that resulted in his arrest, and that the remorse has caused him immense emotional and psychological distress throughout the last five years.

Judge Quinn said O’Rourke was at the outset a retired garda sergeant and pillar of the community. “All of this has now disappeared obviously, and he comes to the court a man who has been effectively shamed,” he added.

He said O’Rourke had pleaded guilty, the offending was at the lower end of the scale, and that O’Rourke had not sought out children he believed he was interacting with, or to share or receive photographs from them.

He said O’Rourke had engaged in treatment and counselling and was fundamentally a good man but that society has an obligation to “stamp out and punish inappropriate interaction with children”, and he believed the headline sentence for the offences was four years.

He sentenced O’Rourke to 18 months for the two charges of the production of child pornography while also taking the counts of using information and communication technology for the sexual exploitation of a child into consideration. He said the sentences would run concurrently.

He suspended the sentence in full for 18 months on condition that O’Rourke attend all appointments with the supervisory officer of the probation services, that he attends assessment for sex offender treatment as directed, and if deemed suitable completes the sex offender treatment programme, and that he follows all lawful directions of the probation service, particularly in relation to risk management.

He also ordered O’Rourke to enter into a €200 bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.

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