'stand tall' | 

Woman hails rapist dad’s failed bid to have jail term reduced as victory for all survivors

John Murphy, a former member of the Defence Forces, was jailed for 18 years in 2018

Sophia Murphy leaving the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Collins Courts

Peter Doyle

A child sexual abuse survivor who had encouraged other victims to “stand tall and speak out” has welcomed a Court of Appeal decision not to reduce her rapist father’s 18-year jail term.

In June 2018, John Murphy (65), a former member of the Defence Forces, pleaded guilty to numerous counts of rape, indecent and sexual assault against his daughter Sophia at locations in Galway and Mayo on dates between 1988 and 2001 she when was aged between three and 15.

He also pleaded guilty one count of sexual assault against Ms Murphy, carried out in 2010.

He was sentenced to consecutive terms totalling 18 years for the offences by Mr Justice Michael White at the Central Criminal Court in July 2018.

Mr Justice White said the headline term for the offences, which he had described as “depraved”, was life.

Murphy, formerly of Nephin View Manor, Foxford, Co Mayo, had appealed the sentence on the grounds it was “excessive, disproportionate, and unfair in all the circumstances”.

But in a judgment delivered yesterday by Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, Murphy’s attempt to have his jail time reduced was rejected.

Speaking outside the Court of Appeal, Ms Murphy – who attended the hearing – said she hoped the judgment would encourage other victims of sexual abuse to come forward.

“When I first heard my father was appealing his sentence, I was gutted. And to sit through the evidence again today made me feel sick,” said Ms Murphy, who had waived her right to anonymity so her father could be named.

“Seeing my father again was also intimidating but I eventually managed to block him from my mind.

“I was worried he would get the sentence reduced, and if that happened it would be as if no one had believed me,” she continued.

“All victims feel like that, and they don’t think anyone will believe them. So, I hope this judgment encourages others to come forward in the belief that they will be listened to and believed.”

She also said that her thoughts were with her sister Stephanie [Prendergast], who was another of her father’s victims and who died from a brain haemorrhage last August.

“But she also suffered from issues with her mental health as a result of the abuse she suffered,” Ms Murphy added.

“I was relieved and delighted with the judgment today, not just for her, or for me, but for all victims of this type of abuse.”

In her judgment, Ms Justice Donnelly, sitting with Mr Justice George Birmingham, presiding, and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the abuse Ms Murphy suffered from her father represented the “ultimate breach of trust of a parent”.

She said the aggravating factors in the case were the victim’s age and the abuse of trust, and that the court could find “no error in principle” in the total sentence imposed by Mr Justice White.

As the judge read an excerpt from Ms Murphy’s victim impact statement, Ms Justice Donnelly said Ms Murphy had “eloquently” expressed the physical and psychological damage that the years of abuse had had on her.

“Dad, you stripped me of every human right. My worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my confidence, my innocence, my childhood, my education, my teenage years, a normal life, even my own voice – until today,” Ms Murphy had told her father as he sat in the dock awaiting sentence, Ms Justice Donnelly had observed.

Earlier, Brendan Grehan SC, for the appellant, said his client’s “essential complaint” was that the sentence imposed was too long.

Mr Grehan said it was his submission that the sentencing judge “did not afford sufficient weight to the mitigation in this case” such as admissions of guilt and an indication of an early plea to prosecutors during the investigation.

A guilty plea was subsequently “entered at the earliest possible stage at the Central Criminal Court”, counsel added.

Mr Grehan said his client’s early plea was not only beneficial to the “operation of the criminal justice system”, which he described as being “particularly congested at this time”, but was also of benefit to the victim in this case.

“The proportionality principle, in my view, does not seem to have been at work in this case,” he said.

“While I accept this was a serious case, and it called for a serious sentence, the sentence of 18 years in this particular case was excessive – and this court should act.”

Patrick Reynolds BL, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, told the court the sentence imposed had reflected “the seriousness and prolonged period of the offending”.

“It comes down to whether the learned sentencing judge took the concepts of proportionality and totality into account. In my respectful submission, he clearly did,” he said.

Before Murphy’s arrest, Ms Murphy had given Garda Thomasina McHale a 110-page written statement outlining the details of her father’s abuse.

She told Gda McHale that the abuse occurred initially at family homes in Co Galway, as well as later in Co Mayo. She was also sexually abused in the family car while on the way to visit her grandmother.

In her statement, Ms Murphy told gardaí that throughout her childhood, there had been constant grabbing and touching. Her father would grab her behind or breasts numerous times during the day.

Ms Murphy told gardaí she could not explain how often the sexual abuse happened, she said it was horrendous and happened at every opportunity. She said that her father had all the control.

She said had been sexually abused on Christmas Day, when a friend was in the house, and one time when her baby sister was present. She said Murphy even abused her wearing his army uniform.

Murphy was arrested in October 2016 and interviewed by gardaí. He admitted sexually abusing his daughter two or three times per week and raping her when she was about 13 or 14 years old.

At his sentencing hearing, it emerged Murphy had 73 previous convictions for the sexual assault of four victims and was serving an eight-year sentence for sexual abuse involving Ms Murphy's two younger sisters.

In her victim impact statement, Ms Murphy said: “Abusers control, manipulate you and make you feel like you are the one with the problem.”

And she urged victims to “stand tall speak out and take back your life, you are not to blame. Silence protects the abuser and imprisons the victim”.

“Take back your life, break the silence. You are not a victim for sharing your story – you are a survivor,” she said.

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