'101 people knew what he was doing'
BACKGROUND:For up to 25 years, a couple subjected their children to a catalogue of abuse
THEY LIVED under the radar, moving from coast to coast and avoiding contact with institutions, with wider society and with members of their own community.
For up to 25 years, a couple with a large family subjected their children to a catalogue of abuse from which several of the daughters say they will never recover.
It could have continued had it not been for the courage of the children and the tireless investigative work of individual members of the Garda Síochána in two adjoining districts.
Yesterday, the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was jailed for life for the rape of four of his daughters.
He also received a sentence of up to seven years for assault, ill-treatment and neglect of the daughters, some of whom were as young as five when the abuse began. Mr Justice Paul Carney refused him leave to appeal.
Last December, the same man received a 14-year sentence from Mr Justice Barry White for multiple counts of rape, buggery and indecent assault of another daughter between 1986 and 2000. The court heard forensic evidence that she had borne two children by him.
In July, his wife and the girls’ mother received an eight-year sentence, having pleaded guilty in March to eight samples of assaulting, ill-treating and neglecting six daughters and two sons between May 2002 and June 2009.
During evidence in the mother’s trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court, the court was told that the Health Service Executive had knowledge of the family since 2000 and its agencies had been “in regular contact” with the family since then.
The HSE said yesterday that its involvement with the family was being reviewed by the National Review Panel for Serious Incidents and Child Deaths established under Health Information Quality Authority guidance.
The mother had a serious alcohol addiction, but evidence presented to the Central Criminal Court in Castlebar this week suggested that the repeated rapes, assaults and beatings took place with and without alcohol, and that the mother was present for rapes carried out by her husband, and participated in beatings.
The full details began to emerge in March 2009 when two young men called to a Garda station to express concern about the family. A female garda who was central to the subsequent investigation arranged to meet some of the young women, who initially denied the allegations.
However, the following month, April 2009, she learned that one of the oldest daughters was being treated in hospital for attempted suicide. There was another suicide attempt and at this stage the girl agreed to make a statement.
Other statements followed, but there was a pattern whereby the girls withdrew and reattended Garda stations – apparently under pressure from the parents.
On June 3rd, 2009, the father was arrested on suspicion of rape and held for questioning under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act. Emergency care orders were issued in June 2009 for a number of children.
A picture began to emerge of serial abuse, beatings and multiple rapes over 18 years – and as far back as 25 years in the case of one daughter. On December 24th, 2009, both parents were taken into custody.
For the oldest daughter, whose case has already led to her father’s jailing for 14 years, it began at the age of six.
She was beaten during and after rapes, often in front of her mother and the other children, and became pregnant by her father twice. Her siblings witnessed her being punched in the ribs while being raped to stop her resisting.
Her sisters received similar treatment, which began with buggery when they were young and vaginal rape as they grew older – in and outside a caravan, out in woods, and at various isolated locations such as bog roads.
Two daughters described how they were tied to a tree in woods, and viciously abused.
One girl was nine when her father both buggered and raped her while she was wired to the tree. Her father put a sock in her mouth and his hand over it to stop her screaming. Her father said he would kill her and bury her in the bog if she told her mother or anyone else.
She was bleeding and unable to walk after the experience. This girl recounted at her mother’s trial how her head was shaved to stop her running away. She described how vice grips were often attached by her mother to her lips, her nose or her ears, and left there. She was beaten with a hammer and had her head split open.
She had her face held in a stream to wash blood off her; in the same incident, rocks were thrown at her and she was threatened with drowning. On another occasion, she was tied to a horse, which was whipped to run. The horse tripped and fell on top of her legs.
She was in her teens and sitting at the dinner table in the caravan with her hands out when her father stuck a knife in her right arm and drew it down.
When the bleeding would not stop, he used a needle and thread to stitch it up, giving the girl no painkillers, in front of her mother and the other terrified children.
When the wound and stitches became infected and burst open several days later, her mother refused to take her to a doctor. The girl described in her victim impact statement how the thread her father used was “thick”.
In that statement, she also recalled receiving medical treatment only once.
Her father had taken away her childhood, and “101 people knew what he was doing, but never asked if we wanted help”, she said.
A doctor who examined the girl’s arm in 2009 when some of the children were taken into care “cringed” at the thought that the child was stitched without anaesthetic, according to Garda evidence in court. Another of the girls had her arm broken with a hammer and had her fingers dislocated. The mother showed no mercy. She was often present when sexual abuse occurred.
She used various implements to beat and whip them.
At her trial, evidence was given that a younger son was hit with a spade handle and a Wavin pipe so that he would appear to have a disability.
Several of the children made attempts to run away; one left at the age of 18 and one at 20.
When they became eligible for social welfare, the older girls were prevented from claiming it by their parents in case they might leave.
The family was often denied food and proper clothing and made to sleep on wet blankets on a caravan floor.
Education was sporadic. At each move, the children might be sent to school for three or four days at a time. Only two of the older children learned how to read and write.
The mother managed all of the family’s finances. Her husband was illiterate and spent 12 days at most at school, the court heard this week.
Throughout the years, she kept a collection of crystal in one caravan which was secured with lock and key.
In November 2010, the first of several court hearings opened when the father was charged with raping his eldest daughter. He came before the court on a total of 105 charges, which was reduced to 83.
The court was told by Forensic Science Laboratory scientist Michael Burrington that DNA tests showed with 99.98 per cent certainty that the man was the father of two of her children rather than an unrelated male.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, the young woman outlined the physical pain she had endured, how her father beat her during and after rapes, how she never received any medical attention for her injuries in case the authorities were alerted and how he showed no remorse.
“I will never be right again,” she said. “That man put me through hell and back. I don’t know how I am alive today. I am trying to put my life back together, but most of the time I want to die.”
Reports from care workers handed into Galway Circuit Criminal Court during the mother’s trial stated that six of the younger children who were taken into care in June 2009 were infested with head lice, had very little clothing and did not know what underwear was or how to use it.
They ate continually, did not know the names of basic fruit or vegetables and could not read or write.
Teachers at various schools said that the children were well fed when they attended and had packed lunches. That court hearing was also told that a social worker found one girl strapped into a filthy buggy in 2002. The child’s face was bruised and she had difficulty breathing.
Imposing sentence on the mother, Judge Raymond Groarke said it was incredible that the abuse could go on for so many years with little or no intervention.
“What is it that can make a mother behave as badly as this lady behaved?”Judge Groarke asked. “Was it because she was sexually abused as a child? Was it because she was an alcoholic from an early age?”
Whatever the reason, she had “little if any notion of remorse” and was “far more concerned about her self-esteem”, Judge Groarke said. He noted that she was not ill, knew the difference between right and wrong and viewed the Garda investigation and the court hearing as an “interruption to her life”.
The mother was sentenced to 24 years in prison, with the final 16 years suspended, backdated to December 24th, 2009. With remission, she could be free in 2017.
When her husband went on trial for a second time, on November 29th last, he initially pleaded not guilty to 271 charges of raping and assaulting or neglecting four of his daughters.
It took more than 90 minutes for the registrar at the Central Criminal Court in Castlebar to read each of the alleged offences to the accused man, who initially pleaded not guilty but changed his plea to one of guilty overnight. He was rearraigned on 14 sample counts.
Members of the family were in court for yesterday’s sentencing at the in camera hearing. Their father sat expressionless throughout. In three victim impact statements submitted by the daughters, several described how they had overdosed, had attempted suicide, could not sleep without a light on and felt “ashamed” of what their father had done.
One daughter described how her father would take her into the woods “the way no one would hear you scream”. The only reason she was alive today was because of her children, who “give me some hope that things might be better in the future”.
“I will never get over it,” one of her sisters said. Another described how she was unable to talk to siblings about it. As a result of this, the family had “broken up” and was “destroyed”.