Mother jailed for 4½ years over abuse of seven children

Woman who cannot be named was found guilty in January following nine-day trial

A 39-year-old mother has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison with the final six months suspended for beating, starving and neglecting seven of her children over a five-year period. File photograph: Getty Images

A 39-year-old mother has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison with the final six months suspended for beating, starving and neglecting seven of her children over a five-year period. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A 39-year-old mother has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison – with the final six months suspended – for beating, starving and neglecting seven of her children over a five-year period.

She often left them for days on end in the care of strange men, one of whom was a paedophile.

The woman, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the children was found guilty in January following a nine-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court of 29 charges of child cruelty and neglect, by wilfully assaulting, ill-treating, neglecting, or abandoning seven of her children, or causing or allowing the children to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, or abandoned, in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to the children’s health or seriously affect their well-being, at six different locations on dates between September 1st, 2006, and May 12th, 2011.

Charges relating to an eighth child were withdrawn from the jury at the end of the trial. Sentencing took place on Monday afternoon, and four of the woman’s eldest children were in court for the sentence hearing, accompanied by their various foster families and care workers. They sat together at the back of the courtroom, crying at times, while their mother sat a short distance away.

The woman’s former partner, (48), who fathered two of the woman’s younger children and who cannot be identified either, was also handed down sentences yesterday – ranging from two years to six months – which were all suspended.

He had initially been jointly charged with the woman with 42 counts of cruelty and neglect, but pleaded guilty to five of the charges last December.

Two of the charges related to his own children, while the remaining charges related to three of the woman’s other children.

In their victim-impact statements, read to the court last week, the children thanked the man for being nice to them. He had often gone into the children’s room and told them he had to pretend to beat them to placate their mother. He had apologised to the children and thanked their foster parents last week for taking such good care of them now. He said he regretted not being able to protect them when they were younger.

He was sentenced to two years in prison in relation to the three charges involving the woman’s children. He was further sentenced to six months, in relation to the charges involving his own children. All of the sentences are concurrent and have been suspended for two years on condition he continue with his rehabilitation in relation to alcohol abuse.

The court was told last week that the children had forgiven the man. They chatted to him prior to his sentence hearing and they hugged him in turn afterwards the sentences were suspended.

Imposing various concurrent sentences, ranging from one year to four and a half years on their mother earlier on all 29 charges, Judge Karen O’Connor said of particular concern to the court was the fact that the children had remained “under the radar” of the authorities for so long.

The trial in January had heard that the children had first come to the attention of social workers in 2006, and while social services liaised with the family in the interim, the children were not taken into care until May, 2011.

Judge O’Connor said the mother’s attempts to blame her eldest daughter for her offending behaviour, and that all of the children were traumatised at witnessing incidents of violence against their siblings over the five-year period, were also disturbing factors in the case.

Another aggravating factor, the judge said, was that the mother had put her children through the trauma of having to give evidence at the trial. She referred to psychological reports on the children, which had indicated they had all suffered enormously, particularly one of the boys, at having to attend their mother’s trial and give evidence against her.

“A common theme too, is the children’s great sadness of being separated from each other and the family link was broken. The youngest child was 13 months old when taken into care and the older sister who cared for the younger ones was deeply traumatised. It’s clear from the victim impact reports that a plea would have helped the children,” Judge O’Connor noted.

The very serious breach of trust was another aggravating factor, the judge said. There were multiple, young victims and the prolonged violent, offending behaviour had a serious impact on them, which would continue into the future.

“One of the most disturbing factors is she sought to attribute blame for this to her eldest daughter,” Judge O’Connor added.

Recalling the graphic evidence presented to the jury in January, Judge O’Connor said the circumstances of the case were that there was general neglect and a failure to look after the most basic needs of the children. This was coupled with drunkenness; images of shabby, neglected children with their shoes falling off their feet; neighbours having to feed them; an environment of violence, an atmosphere of fear; images of very young, frightened, anxious and helpless young children being beaten or watching their siblings being beaten.

“The cumulative effect of the offending has been more damaging to the children. Neighbours were concerned and they have to be commended for their efforts in looking out for the children. Two of the women fed and clothed the children. One woman reported her concerns to social services. Another neighbour, a man, also rang social services.

“It’s of concern to the court that the children remained under the radar of the authorities for so long. Having children is a privilege. Children have rights which are recognised in the Irish Constitution,” Judge O’Connor added. She commended the children and described them as “resilient, impressive young people”.