Court awards €2.8m to woman sexually abused by relative


A woman who was raped and sexually abused between the ages of 12 and 16 by her uncle-in-law, who was also her godfather, has been awarded damages of €2.8 million by a High Court jury.

The award to Marcella Breslin includes €1.2 million in exemplary damages, €1 million in aggravated damages and €600,000 general damages.

Ms Breslin (31), Emerald Drive, Killybegs, Co Donegal, had sued Patrick Gillespie (54), Carrrickmagrath, Ballbofey, Co Donegal. Gillespie, who is serving a prison sentence, did not participate in the proceedings. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, with three years suspended, after being convicted of rape and sexual assault of Ms Breslin in 2008.

Difficult to realise damages

In a letter afterwards, lawyers for Ms Breslin said that while she was delighted with the jury’s assessment of damages, it would be a very difficult task to realise assets on her behalf from the “very limited assets” of Gillespie.

In her action, Ms Breslin claimed Gillespie deliberately and knowingly perpetrated acts of sexual assault and sexual abuse on her between 1993 and 1997 at his home, in forest areas of Co Donegal and once at her grandmother’s house at Athayvooge, Killybegs.

It was claimed the abuse began as intimate touching and graduated to sexual intercourse. While Ms Breslin did what she could to prevent rape, she said Gillespie overpowered her physically and psychologically and the abuse continued for four years.

As a result of deliberate physical and sexual assault and deliberate and wilful trespass to her person, Ms Breslin claimed she suffered personal injuries, loss and damage.

The case, heard before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne and the jury concluded yesterday. After deliberating for nearly two hours, the jury awarded €2.8 million damages.

Earlier, when the jury had asked the judge who would pay the damages and if there was any precedent in such cases, Ms Justice Dunne said Gillespie would be liable.

She said the jury was compensating Ms Breslin for the wrongs done to her and asked the jury to be sensible. “This is not the United States; we have a commonsense practical approach,” she said.

Stolen childhood

Addressing the jury earlier, senior counsel Richard Lyons, for Ms Breslin, asked them to award aggravated and exemplary damages reflecting “the horror story” experienced by his client. They were putting a “a price on a stolen childhood”, he said.

The jury heard Ms Breslin would stay in Gillespie’s house and was close to his wife.

The assaults began when Ms Breslin was 12, Sasha Gayer, for Ms Breslin said. Gillespie had also brought her to a local forest area where he would rape her. The abuse had a profound and lasting effect on her and she had tried to take her own life when she was 16.

The criminal case against Gillespie had also caused a rift in the extended family.

In evidence, Ms Breslin said on Friday nights Gillespie would take her to a forest and rape her. “I would meet my friend after and she would be trying to decide what to wear. I was thinking: ‘I wish that was all of my problems’.”