A former scout leader in Dublin has been jailed for six-and-a-half years for the sexual abuse of four boys.
David O’Brien, now aged 67, told gardaí in 1997 during their investigation into one of the victim’s allegations that while he did not recall the alleged offences, he was not denying them.
He told gardaí that he molested a number of other young boys in the scouts. The court heard that a file was submitted to the State solicitor, but there was a direction made not to prosecute.
O'Brien, of Benburb Street, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to eight counts of indecent assault relating to four boys on dates between January 1st, 1972 and December 31st, 1981.
He was jailed for four-and-a-half years in October 2015 for sexually abusing six young boys on camping trips in the late 1970s and 80s.
Passing sentence on Thursday, Judge Karen O’Connor said while she agreed with defence counsel that had the system worked these matters could have been addressed years ago, this in no way took away from O’Brien’s moral culpability.
Judge O’Connor said the case was aggravated by the breach of trust and by three of the victims being warned not to tell anyone. She said the victims were “deprived the innocence of childhood”.
She said the case was mitigated by O’Brien’s guilty plea. She said he has expressed remorse and co-operated during the investigation and noted that a term of imprisonment was likely to be more difficult for someone of his age than for a younger person.
Judge O’Connor sentenced O’Brien to two years imprisonment on a single count of indecent assault relating to each of the four complainants. She ordered that these sentences would run consecutively to each other for an effective operating sentence of eight years imprisonment.
She suspended the final 18 months of this eight-year sentence on condition that O’Brien come under the supervision of the Probation Service for 12 months post-release.
Judge O’Connor commended the victims for the courageous manner in which they pursued the case. She said that none of what happened was their fault and she hoped their future would be “brighter than the pain you have gone through in the past”.
In his victim impact statement, which he read out in court, the first victim said the abuse changed his life forever. The man said he came from a working class family and his father gave money to buy a uniform, rucksack and sleeping bag for his first camping trip.
He said he never went back to the scouts after being assaulted on the trip and his father went “ballistic” due to the apparent waste of money. He said he did not tell his father about the abuse until shortly before his death.
After he finished giving his statement, Judge O’Connor told the man it was very courageous of him to read out his statement in court and his father would have been proud of him.
In his victim impact statement, read out in court, the second victim said he suffered trust issues as a result of what happened to him. He said he knew what had happened to him was not right but could not speak up about it.
The third victim declined to make a victim impact statement.
In his victim impact statement, which was read in court, the fourth victim said he developed an acid reflux due to stress. This required multiple surgeries and he attributed it to being abused on the scouting trip.
At an earlier sentencing hearing, Detective Garda Neil Plunkett told Dominic McGinn SC, prosecuting, that one of the victims in this case made a complaint to gardaíin 1996 and O’Brien was interviewed by gardaí the following year as part of their investigations.
During the interview, O’Brien accepted he was a scout leader and that while he could not recall the offences alleged by the victim, he was not denying them.
O’Brien told gardaí that at that time he was “molesting” a number of young boys in the scouts and the molestations had been going on for 10 years. He said he left one scout group when a parent confronted him, but a friend got him into another group where he continued to molest boys.
He said that none of the molestations were penetrative, but that they involved fondling and getting some of the boys to touch him. He claimed he had not molested any young boys in eight or nine years.
Det Garda Plunkett said a file was submitted in 1997 to the state solicitor and there was a direction made of no prosecution.
During an interview with gardaíin 2016, O’Brien estimated he abused between 30 or 40 children while he was a scout leader.
Det Garda Plunkett agreed with Padraig Dwyer SC, defending, that the statement his client made to gardaí in 1997 represented not only an admission that he abused one particular boy, but also that he admitted other offences against other boys.
Mr Dwyer asked the court to take into account that “had the system worked better” in 1997, “a lot of this” could have been dealt with quite a long time ago.
He said he was under instructions from his client to apologise for his offending behaviour. He said O’Brien accepted he committed grave wrongs and caused untold damage to the victims.
Their ‘little secret’
Det Garda Plunkett told the court the first victim was assaulted by O’Brien on a camping trip with the cub scouts in Larch Hill, Dublin, in 1972 or 1973. The child was held back after an evening walk by O’Brien who masturbated the child’s penis and put a finger in the child’s anus.
After the assault, O’Brien held the victim tight and told him it was their “little secret”. The child cried himself to sleep that night and refused to return to the scouts after the trip ended.
Det Garda Plunkett said the second victim was aged seven or eight when he joined the cub scouts group of which O’Brien was the leader. This victim went on a camping trip with the scouts, but he could not recall the exact location of the trip.
Just before the scouts went on a hike, the child was pulled aside by O’Brien and asked if he needed to urinate. The child said no, but O’Brien instructed him to take out his penis anyway and he took hold of the child’s penis and began to grope it.
Before the two caught up with the rest of the group, O’Brien again instructed him to take out his penis and he again groped and fondled it.
That night O’Brien instructed the victim to sleep in his tent and during the night he reached into the child’s sleeping bag and groped his testicles. He then attempted to put his fingers in the child’s anus, but did not penetrate him.
Det Garda Plunkett said the third victim rejoined the cub scouts when he was around 12 years old and that O'Brien was the leader of the group he joined. This victim was first abused during a camping trip to Roundwood in Co Wicklow.
The child woke up O’Brien one night and told him that he had wet the bed, as all the scouts on the trip had been told by the accused to come to him if they had a problem. O’Brien told him it was okay and instructed the child to get into his sleeping bag with him.
During the night O’Brien masturbated the child’s penis and put the child’s hand on his own penis. He also tried to find the child’s anus with his fingers and pressed so hard that tears were brought to the child’s eyes.
The following night the child was instructed to sleep beside O'Brien and during the night he again fondled the child's penis. A similar incident occurred on another camping trip in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow, during which O'Brien again unzipped the child's sleeping bag and fondled his penis.
Det Garda Plunkett said the fourth victim went on a camping trip to Longwood, Co Meath, in the summer of 1981 and that O'Brien was the only scout leader present.
On a particular night the boys were making a lot of noise in their tent and O’Brien called this victim into his smaller tent. When the child woke up later that night his pyjama bottoms were pulled down to his knees and O’Brien was squeezing his penis.
The victim thought that O’Brien was naked from the waist down and was rubbing against his back.
The following morning O’Brien said he was sorry for what happened but that he should not tell anyone about it.