Sex-abuse campaigners condemn ‘leniency’ of Humphries sentence

Judge showed ‘inappropriate empathy’ with former sports journalist

Tom Humphries: the former Irish Times journalist pleaded guilty to two counts of defilement of a child and four counts of inviting a child to participate in a sexually explicit, obscene or indecent act.  Photograph: Courtpix

Tom Humphries: the former Irish Times journalist pleaded guilty to two counts of defilement of a child and four counts of inviting a child to participate in a sexually explicit, obscene or indecent act. Photograph: Courtpix

 

Campaigners against sex abuse have condemned what they described as the leniency of the 2½ year prison sentence given to Tom Humphries and the judge’s “inappropriate empathy” with him.

The former Irish Times sports journalist was jailed by Judge Karen O’Connor at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on Tuesday, seven months after he pleaded guilty to two counts of defilement of a child and four counts of inviting a child to participate in a sexually explicit, obscene or indecent act. The grooming started when the girl was 14. Humphries sexually abused her when she was 16.

The court previously heard that Humphries (54), from Sutton in Dublin, exchanged at least 16,000 text messages with the girl over three months leading up to March 2011. Humphries was due to stand trial in relation to three further charges, involving a second girl, but these were dropped by the prosecution in June.

“It would be difficult not to have sympathy”

In lengthy sentencing remarks Judge O’Connor said the offences deserved a “headline sentence” of four years in prison. After taking into account mitigating factors, however, including Humphries’s previous high profile and subsequent fall, she reduced this by 18 months. “It would be difficult not to have sympathy for him. That’s not to excuse his behaviour,” she said. “It’s something of a truism to say the higher the profile and success of a member of society the greater the fall.”

The chief executive of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, criticised the judge’s remarks about Humphries’s previous status. “It seems to be an inappropriate level of empathy for him, with little empathy for the rights of the victim.”

Mary Flaherty, chief executive of Children at Risk in Ireland, said she was amazed by the “unbelievably lenient” sentence, “given the sustained, predatory nature of the grooming”. She said most child abuse was perpetrated by people who were trusted. “To suggest if he were a less prominent figure in the community he would get a longer sentence is amazing. I think the ‘higher’ the position the greater the breach of trust. Sentencing should reflect that.”

The Director of Public Prosecutions has no plans to appeal the sentence, The Irish Times understands. Sources said that although prosecutors were surprised by the sentence, they believe Judge O’Connor made no single substantial error in law that would allow for a successful appeal. The length of the prison term was “low but probably not low enough” for the Court of Appeal to raise it, said one.