A Wexford man who raped, assaulted and coercively controlled a woman in the course of a six-week relationship has been jailed for 17 years.
Shortly after Dean Ward (36) and Sinéad O’Neill met on an online dating site in May 2019, Ward had effectively moved himself into the woman’s home in Killybegs, Co Donegal, the Central Criminal Court heard.
During the next six weeks Ward repeatedly attacked Ms O’Neill, spraying Mace into her face, tying her up, choking her and then raping her, threatening her with a hammer and punching her in the face. He controlled her access to friends and family, took over her online banking and monitored her whereabouts, social media and mobile phone use and removed her contraceptive device as she slept.
Mr Justice Kerida Naidoo suspended the final year of an 18-year sentence for the most serious rape offence. He imposed a four-year term, to run concurrently, for the offence of coercive control, which has a maximum sentence of five years.
Speaking outside court, Ms O’Neill said she was speaking out to show others that support was available. She said that she felt stuck in fear but that she received “amazing support” from the moment she reached out to gardaí for help.
She said she hoped that her case would encourage anyone in an abusive relationship to seek help and confide in somebody. She said she believed that by getting Ward locked up she has saved other women from a similar ordeal.
Ward, formerly of Ballintlea, Hollyfort, Gorey, Co Wexford, was jailed in 2016 for four years for falsely imprisoning and assaulting a young mother in November 2015. Ward and that woman had met on the internet dating website Plenty of Fish and Ward attacked her on their third date in the woman’s own home.
Speaking after the hearing, Supt Karen Duffy of Ballyshannon Garda station said the offence of coercive control is a relatively new one and she would encourage any women or men in an abusive relationship to come to gardaí.
Ward, also known as Dean Alexander Fowkes, used a different name on first meeting Ms O’Neill.
He was convicted following a trial earlier this year of 12 offences: four assaults, one false imprisonment, one making a threat to kill, two counts of production of articles, three counts of rape and one count of coercive control on dates between June 11th and July 17th, 2019.
The offences occurred between Ms O’Neill meeting Ward for the first time and his arrest by armed gardaí at her home on July 17th, 2019. Ward does not accept the verdict of the jury and continues to maintain his innocence. He has been in custody since his arrest.
The ordeal only came to an end when Ms O’Neill’s boss realised something was wrong and spoke to her and advised her to go to gardaí. Mr Justice Naidoo said that such was Ward’s level of control that they had to come up with an escape plan to get her out of the house long enough for armed gardaí to move in and arrest Ward.
Ward tried to get away but was caught jumping over a back wall, with a can of incapacitant spray on him.
At Ward’s sentence hearing earlier this month, Ms O’Neill told the court she had led a quiet, happy life and had wanted someone to share it with.
“It only took him six weeks to destroy me,” she said. She described how she had previously just wanted to be happy but now just wanted a life without fear.
Mr Justice Naidoo noted that the rapes took place in a controlling relationship and that consent was not freely given. He said the victim’s acquiescence to sexual intercourse was secured by fear in circumstances where she was subjected to force before the rape or fear as a result of the cumulative effect of Ward’s behaviour over time.
He said the first offence of rape was aggravated by violence and extreme degradation. After a row, Ward had broken into Ms O’Neill’s home, punched her in the face and told he was going to kill her.
He took her upstairs and pulled out a knife which he used to cut a towel into shreds. He then used the shreds to tie her up and began choking her from behind. Mr Justice Naidoo said Ms O’Neill believed she was going to die. Ward then raped her.
Mr Justice Naidoo set a headline sentence of 18 years for this offence, the most serious of all the offending. He said there was virtually no mitigation but he suspended one year on condition that Ward obey the instructions of the Probation Service after his release.
He imposed lesser sentences on the other offences, all of which are to run concurrently.