A rapist’s record
The man who raped two children in Athlone had 88 other convictions, nearly all related to alcohol, and had just been released early from a five-month jail sentence for assault
Outside court: the scene in Longford in October 2013, when the man was charged. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Nobody who was in court this week for the sentencing hearing of the man who raped two girls, aged six and nine, in Athlone in September last year is ever likely to forget what they heard.
In victim-impact statements the girls’ parents painted a picture of lives shattered, perhaps beyond the point of rescue. The mother of the nine-year-old said the attacker “made a cold and predatory decision to rape my daughter”. “He made her believe in her little heart that she would die if she didn’t comply. He gratified himself on the body of an innocent child.”
She spoke of her sleepless, tormented nights, lying awake with images in her head of her innocent child snatched from the midst of the family, being raped and of being able to hear her heart beating in fear.
The father of the younger girl sobbed as he addressed the court, saying when his daughter first described the attack, after she had escaped the rapist, all of his senses were instantly overpowered by white noise and he felt a “bomb going off” in his head.
The girls were in a house in Athlone for a birthday party on the afternoon of Saturday, September 28th, when they decided to go outside to play. They were climbing a tree when they saw a man looking at them. He approached and started a conversation, enticing them away by pretending to invite them to play with a fictional six-year-old in a flat nearby. “She is a bit shy now. Come on, come on,” he told them.
He took them to a ground-floor flat where he had been sleeping while on a four-day drinking binge since his release from prison, the previous Wednesday.
Once inside, the door closed and the girls’ fate sealed, his tone changed and he undressed. He verbally abused the older girl, ordering her to take off her clothes and threatening to “cut your parents’ throat open and cut yours”.
He then threw her on the mattress in the bedroom and raped her. Both girls were raped repeatedly and both witnessed the attacks on each other. *
The ordeal lasted about 20 minutes. When the attacker left the room, taking his coat, the elder girl realised he was leaving the flat and told the other young victim they would be there forever unless they ran now.
They climbed out of a window at the back of the property and into the arms of a search party of family, friends and locals who were frantically looking for them.
As the children told what had happened, one of the parents recorded their accounts on a mobile phone – a foresight that would prove crucial.
After he left the flat the attacker had wandered in a drunken haze no farther than the entrance to the housing estate. He was pursued, and used a bottle of vodka to try to hit the first local man to reach him.
Gardaí from Athlone Garda station arrived and arrested the suspect on a public-order charge. He was put into cells in Athlone station to sleep off the effects of the alcohol. The 30-year-old attacker had been in those same cells only hours earlier. He had been arrested for being drunk and abusive at 3am on the Saturday, charged with a public-order offence and released on bail just before 10am. Gardaí believe he resumed his drinking on Saturday.
He had come to the town four days before the rapes, having been released from a five-month prison sentence, to see a man he had met in jail. This man was a guest of the tenant of the flat where the rapes took place.
On the Saturday afternoon the other two men lay comatose from drink in the flat. The attacker, drunk and on valium, went outside and lured his victims into the property at about 4pm.
After the rapes, all three men were arrested on Saturday afternoon on public-order charges. They were released on bail and rearrested, this time for questioning about the rapes, although gardaí believed from the outset that the other two men were not involved.
The rapist was interviewed by gardaí seven times; four on Sunday and three on Monday. At first he denied raping the girls, offering samples of DNA to prove his innocence. He was interviewed on Sunday afternoon for a second time for just under an hour. He admitted he “had sex” with the girls but insisted it was not rape.
By now an angry mob had gathered outside the Garda station; the suspect and the gardaí questioning him could hear their chants. On Sunday night the suspect began to admit some details of what he had done.
During the first interview session on Monday morning, gardaí produced the transcript of the girl’s words recorded by her father immediately after the ordeal.
That was the breakthrough moment. The suspect confirmed her account, his memory of the precise detail jogged by what was read to him.
To avoid the security risk of a large, angry crowd, he was transferred early on Tuesday, under armed escort, to Longford courthouse, where he appeared on the rape charges, indicating he would plead guilty.
His early life
A surprising feature of the case was that the rapist had no sexual convictions, despite a record stretching to 88 offences and having spent much of his adult life in prison.
“He went from what you would call zero to 100 on the scale and for no clear reason,” said one source of the inexplicable escalation in his criminality.
Although the man has 88 previous offences, gardaí say he is not a career criminal. “He’s an alcoholic, and virtually every single one of his crimes has drink at the centre of it. He doesn’t really carry out crimes to enrich himself,” said one source.
He is from a local-authority housing estate west of the Shannon. His parents split up when he was young, and he was raised by his mother. Although he has had no visitors in Castlerea since his detention and remand in custody in September, both parents visited him at the station after his arrest, initially disbelieving in the face of the facts.
Their shock on first hearing the allegations is perhaps understandable. Although much of the literature around sex offending suggests that serious perpetrators demonstrate a graduated pattern of offending, before this man raped the children in Athlone there was little to indicate what was to come.
In his early 20s he had been questioned about intercourse with a girl just below the age of consent, but that case had gone nowhere.
And although he has several convictions for physically assaulting people, the criminal-justice system treated all of those cases as being at the lower end of the scale.
Sources indicate that he was a graduate of the Garda’s juvenile-liaison programme for youth offenders and was treated for psychological problems as a child. His defence team in court this week floated the idea when cross-examining a Garda witness that he had been the victim of a choking incident at the age of six.
Prison sources said that after he was sentenced on Monday, the man had to clarify with prison officers what his sentence was. But others who have met him in recent years insist that he is not “mentally slow”.
His criminal history
His 88 convictions as an adult stretch back to 2001, when he was convicted twice. That year, at the age of 18, he was sentenced to six months in St Patrick’s Institute for Young Offenders, in Dublin, for possession of a knife. In 2002 he was sent back to St Patrick’s for another six months, this time for unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle.
In the 12 years between his first adult offence and raping the girls last year, he spent more than four years in prison. Apart from his first two sentences in St Patrick’s, he spent all of his time inside in one prison.
Between 2003 and 2010 he was jailed each year for short periods of a couple of months, sometimes more than once in a year, mostly for public-order and threatening-behaviour offences with assaults where no serious injury was caused.
In 2010, of the seven convictions recorded, the most serious was for burglary, for which he was jailed for five months.
The year 2011 saw him rack up 23 convictions, the most serious of which was obstructing a police officer while drunk on the street. He received two months in jail. In total that year he was jailed by the courts five times – on four occasions for two months and once for one month.
In 2012 he was convicted of 12 offences, for public disorder and assaults. His longest sentence was five months, for assault. He was also convicted of breaching a barring order.
In 2013 he was free for just five months and one week, but was convicted of 14 crimes. He was jailed for five months in early June 2013 for assault. On that occasion, six other offences he was convicted of were taken into consideration: two cases of breaching a barring order secured by his mother against him; one for criminal damage; another for intoxication in a public place; and a related but separate offence of threatening and abusive behaviour. The final offence was one of obstructing a police officer.
On at least one occasion, in the hope of avoiding jail, he has told courts that he was about to be married or to have a baby with a partner, neither of which was true. Although he told gardaí he was a father of two, and although that was widely reported, gardaí do not believe that he has any children.
Despite being sentenced to five months in prisonment in June 2013, with time off for good behaviour he was freed in late September. He was out for just four days before his arrest for the rapes.
His path to sex crime
Although the rapist’s history shows a pattern of serial criminality, there seems to be no sense from it that he could commit such a crime as this one. Eileen Finnegan, clinical director at One in Four, which works with the victims and perpetrators of sexual violence, says that the reasons for an escalation in criminal behaviour leading to sexual offending are often unclear.
“You certainly don’t find out all of the whys,” she said. “You can have what appears to be a very insignificant trigger that changes the behaviour; it can vary. Sometimes it’s somebody discovering pornography on the internet or discovering alcohol.”
She adds the growth in images of child sexual abuse online has led to a significant change in the age profile of sex offenders. Gone is the “dirty old man” image of the older abuser. The mean age of offenders on One in Four’s treatment programmes is now 22.
There is also a risk of those offenders moving from internet offences to contact offences. “Suddenly the rush of it being on the internet on the webcam is not enough.”
In sex crimes involving serious violence, Finnegan suggests that most offending arises against the backdrop of violence in the life of the offender. “You have to go back, have a look for the different forms of violence that went on. What happened in that person’s life, maybe as far back as eight years old or into puberty, to make them act this way?”
*This article was amended on Saturday March 8th, 2014