Man still being held over Athlone sex attack on girls
Two other men released after children aged six and nine lured away from party and assaulted
Crowds have gathered outside Athlone courthouse and Garda station, where a man in his 30s remains in custody, in connection with the serious sexual assault of two girls on Saturday. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
Two men being questioned by gardaí about an alleged serious sexual assault on two girls aged six and nine in Athlone have been released without charge.
A file is to be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The men aged, in their mid-40s, and a third man in his early 30s, were arrested shortly after the attack yesterday and questioned at Athlone Garda station last night.
The third man remains in custody and can be questioned until approximately 7pm.
Up to 200 people gathered outside the courthouse and nearby Garda station in Athlone today.
It is understood the girls were lured away from a children’s party in a residential area in Athlone, Co Westmeath, on Saturday afternoon and subjected to the attack at a nearby house.
Both children had travelled from other parts of the country and had been staying with relatives.
The girls were taken to University Hospital Galway for extensive examination and medical treatment. Their parents were with them there.
A Garda source said: “This was a truly horrific attack on two little girls. They endured an experience that is the stuff of every parent’s nightmare. There is enormous upset at what has happened.”
While the party was under way, the children were playing outside and are believed to have been enticed to a nearby house at about 4pm by a man not attending the celebration.
Once inside, they were taken to a room where they were sexually assaulted.
When they were left alone, the girls climbed out a window and ran back to the party to raise the alarm. Adults at the party had already become concerned at the unexplained disappearance earlier of the girls.
The children were able to identify the house and one man was detained by local men before gardaí were alerted. Two other men were arrested on Saturday evening.
All three appeared at a special sitting of Athlone District Court yesterday morning, when they were remanded on public order charges.
None of the men was charged in relation to the attack on the girls.
Following their appearance in court, the men were arrested as part of the investigation into the alleged sexual assault and returned to Athlone Garda station.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said this morning the incident in Athlone was “shocking” and his “heart goes out to the children and their families”. The gardai had responded “very rapidly”, he said on Newstalk Radio.
Mayor of Athlone Councillor Gabrielle McFadden described the incident as “sickening” and said thoughts of the entire community are with the children and their parents.
“Two children should be able to play in the front garden of a house,” an emotional Ms McFadden added. She said “everybody is thinking about and praying for the parents and the two little children”.
“The town is quite devastated and quite upset.”
Labour councillor Jim Henson summed up the local reaction as one of revulsion.
“People are absolutely horrified that something like that could happen in the town.”
Mr Henson, who has worked with youths in Athlone for 14 years, said the young people he had spoken to were particularly upset and had expressed “absolute revulsion” at the incident.