Judge invites reform body to carry out study on sentencing of elderly

Comment made before imposing 10 year sentence on 78-year-old for repeated sexual assaults

A High Court judge has invited a prison reform body to carry out a study on the sentencing of elderly people.

Mr Justice Paul Butler made the comment before sentencing a 78-year-old serial child abuser for repeated sexual assaults on a 13-year-old boy.

Patrick O’Brien pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to 15 counts of sexual assault, many of which involved oral and anal rape of the child. He also admitted three counts of committing acts of gross indecency.

The offending took place at O'Brien's home at Knocklyon Road, Templeogue, Dublin and other locations in the city on dates between April 2002 and December 2003.


Mr Justice Butler described the abuse as persistent and appalling. He said a harrowing victim impact report showed the abuse had had a profound effect on the victim.

Imposing a ten-year custodial sentence for the rape attacks, Mr Justice Butler said it was very difficult to sentence a man of this age and suggested that the Irish Penal Reform Trust should carry out a study on the sentencing of elderly people.

O'Brien, a former Church of Ireland lay worker, is currently serving a 13-year jail term imposed in 2016 for the rape and molestation of 14 young boys over the course of 40 years.

In 1989, he received a suspended sentence for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy in 1982.

The sentence imposed on Thursday will run concurrent to the sentence he is already serving and is backdated to December 2017.

The court heard that the victim was confused about his sexuality at the time and had met a man 20 years older than him. This man, who is before the courts, introduced the victim to O’Brien and brought him to his house in Templeogue.

In a statement, the victim said that the sexual activity with O’Brien changed his idea of normality. He said he felt it was normal at the time but later realised it wasn’t.

“I felt degraded and dirty,” he said.

Sean Guerin SC, defending, told the court that his client had attended hundreds of hours of therapy and group therapy while in custody at Arbour Hill prison. He said O’Brien also participated in Sunday services as a choir singer and assisted in a prison education programme.

He said O’Brien will be in prison until the age of 87. He said there was no offending for a period after O’Brien’s conviction in 1989 and this demonstrated his client’s capability for rehabilitation.

The court heard also that around 2008, a relative of the victim demanded money from O’Brien to stay quiet about his offending. O’Brien paid this man a large sum of money and the man was later investigated for blackmail.

The victim first made allegations against O’Brien in 2002. Anne Rowland, prosecuting, told the court that “inexplicably nothing seems to have taken place” with the investigation at the time and this has “never been explained satisfactorily”.

In around 2010, gardaí­ again approached the complainant who made a statement withdrawing the complaint. A file was sent to the DPP but because of the victim’s withdrawal statement, no prosecution was brought.

Inspector Barry Walsh agreed with Mr Guerin that it was on the advice of a former colleague of his that the complainant decided not to pursue charges. The court heard the victim felt he might be held responsible because he had accepted gifts from O’Brien during the abuse.

Inspector Walsh told the court that when he came into the case in 2016, he met the victim and advised him that as a minor at the time of the offending he was under the age of consent.

A second file was sent to the DPP and prosecution followed. After his arrest O’Brien asked to hear the victim’s allegations and then told gardaí­: “I accept the main content of what he said and I am very sorry.”

Mr Justice Butler said O’Brien was a repeat offender and that society was entitled to expect that offenders would be punished for all offending. He noted the accused had apologised for these offences.