Father of teenage boy who tried to murder woman in Dún Laoghaire apologises in court
Now 17-year-old tried to kill Stephanie Ng in 2017 after they met on a social media app
Stephanie Ng leaves the Central Criminal Court in Dublin in November 2019. Photograph: RTÉ News
The father of a teenage boy who tried to murder a woman he met on an internet dating app has apologised to the victim saying: “There is no excuse for the terrible actions our son carried out that day”.
The Court of Appeal also heard on Tuesday that the man regretted his son not being hospitalised or being given the correct medication at an earlier stage. The father said he wished he had not allowed his son to have such a high dose of antidepressants, which he gave the boy every night and which he felt may have induced the manic episode during which he attacked the victim.
He also said the attack was not unpredictable and his son had previously attempted suicide “to avoid attacking people”.
The teenage boy must wait until Wednesday to hear what his sentence will be increased to following a successful “undue leniency” appeal by prosecutors.
The now 17-year-old, who cannot be named because he is a minor, was originally sentenced by Mr Justice Michael White at the Central Criminal Court to 11 years detention with a review to commence after five years on January 1st, 2023. The attempted murderer has been in custody since December 2017 when he lured Stephanie Ng to an isolated area at the Sea Front, Queen’s Road, Dún Laoghaire.
After pleading guilty to her attempted murder, the teenager received his sentence in November 2019.
The Director of Public Prosecutions successfully sought a review of the teenager’s sentence earlier this month on the grounds that it was “unduly lenient”, arguing that a review of the 11-year sentence imposed on the teenage boy after a five-year period was too early. The Court of Appeal found that the element of planning and premeditation meant that, ‘even as attempted murders go’, the offence had to be seen as being at the high end of the spectrum.
The teenager met his 25-year-old victim on the Whisper social media app, where he had pretended to be 19. The boy was just 15 when he tried to kill Ms Ng during their first face-to-face meeting, after suggesting they take a selfie by the water’s edge. There, he grabbed her from behind and choked her to unconsciousness before slashing her neck with a knife.
Gardaí later found a book of drawings in his bedroom, containing a sketch of someone being cut up with a knife. The words, ‘serial killer’, had been written on another page.
His victim previously gave evidence of taking what she thought was her last breath, as the teenager tried to ‘choke the life’ out of her before leaving her for dead. She later felt that he was frustrated with himself for not having killed her. Through tears, she told the Central Criminal Court that the boy had ‘destroyed’ her life.
Patrick Gageby SC, for the boy, on Tuesday called the father of the teenager to take the stand and the barrister told the three-judge panel that he understood there were a number of things he (the father) would like to tell the court about his son and their family.
The Court’s President Mr Justice George Birmingham previously granted the boy’s wish to have a physical hearing today, as opposed to the remote hearings taking place as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. The boy was present in court with his two parents.
The father of the teenager said he would like to start by apologising to the victim as no one should have to go through the trauma she had suffered in December 2017. “There is no excuse for the terrible actions our son carried out that day,” he said.
The man said his son had exhibited some disturbing signs at primary school in that he drew some “violent pictures” which had worried teachers and was suffering from “dark thoughts”.
By the time sixth class arrived, the boy seemed to be making a lot of progress and was doing well academically, said the father, adding that he had a bright future.
The father said his son went to secondary school at 13 years of age and like other teenagers, he was finding it difficult to adjust. “He became lonely and depressed and disassociated from other children. This went on for two years and he went to a new school at 14 years of age,” he continued.
The man said his son told him after a couple of weeks in the new school that he could not go to school the following day as he had a voice in his head telling him to carry out “violent things” and he might attack the other children in the school. “I gave him the day off but on the Sunday evening he had taken an overdose of tablets from the medicine cupboard,” he said.
The man said that his son had waited a period of time to tell him about the overdose so it was too late to have his stomach pumped. The boy was admitted to hospital, where he was treated and his mother was allowed to stay in the bed next to him, he said, adding that his 15th birthday took place in the hospital.
The witness said that a psychiatrist had told the family that what had happened to the boy was very serious and they should try to get him into an in-patient psychiatric facility. The family went to a facility in Ballyfermot, where the boy was seen by three psychiatrists but they did not have a bed for him, he said.
“We were disappointed as it was a big deal putting a child into a mental hospital. He wanted to go there as he recognised something was very wrong. We were told we had to watch him 24 hours a day so we stayed up to keep an eye on him and did it in shifts,” he explained.
The father said the voices in his son’s head were getting “more frequent and frightening” at this point. “He said he couldn’t tell what was real and what he was imagining. A lot of the time he was disassociated like he was dreaming,” he continued.
The father said he heard a noise one night and went into the boy’s bedroom. “He was trying to hang himself with a belt. I cut him down. He couldn’t go to school at this point,” he said.
The parents brought the boy to another clinic to see a psychiatrist, who prescribed anti-depressants for him and they were hopeful at that point, he said. However, after three weeks there was a disturbing incident when the boy had a fight on the street with a child, he said. “This was uncharacteristic behaviour. It was not normal for him as there had been no previous violent incidents,” he said.
The father highlighted to the court that the disturbing thing was that his son was happy after this event. “It looked like he was empowered by it. He told his psychiatrist that he had blue blood in his veins and he was no longer frightened by the voice anymore,” said the man.
Psychiatrists increased his dosage of antidepressants and he was 50 per cent above the maximum dose by the middle of December 2017, he said. The father said that he saw his son on his phone a lot around this time, which he thought was normal for someone his son’s age. “It was only afterwards that I discovered he was on a dating app and exchanging hundreds of messages with an adult,” he noted.
On Christmas morning 2017, the man said the family were exchanging presents when gardaí arrived at the house at 9am to arrest his son. “I was very surprised but I knew it was him and my wife knew it was him because of what we had seen in the previous months and what he had told us,” he said.
The boy was taken to Oberstown Children Detention Campus the following day and he has been there since, he said. The teenager got a new doctor to treat him, Professor Harry Kennedy, who immediately put him on an antipsychotic drug. After a short period of time, his hallucinations reduced from three times every hour to once a day, he said.
The man said he has since seen a dramatic change in his son, who only weighed eight stone at the time. “He had been absolutely wired, manic, wide-eyed and could not sleep at night and suddenly he was making eye contact again. He was coming back to the child he had been since before he was sick,” he said.
The father became emotional as he told the Court of Appeal that he had “a great feeling of regret” in relation to when his son was hallucinating a couple of months earlier. “I wished I had asked for that drug to be given to him at that time, that’s a regret. I regret that he had not managed to be hospitalised. I also regret that he was so manic at the end before the attack. I wish we hadn’t allowed him to have such a high dose of antidepressants. We put it in his mouth every night in liquid form and I feel that may have induced the manic. What I’m saying is it wasn’t out of the blue,” he explained.
The man said that his son had been seen by five psychiatrists by the time of the attack on Ms Ng. “He was manic and had seriously attempted suicide to avoid attacking people,” he said.
He said his son had agreed to every treatment to date and the attack was not something that was unpredictable. “That’s a regret,” he added.
The teenage boy has been in Oberstown Children Detention Centre for the last two-and-a-half years where he has been well treated and is much better than he was, he said. “He is still sick but treatment is going well. He is well liked by the other children and has completed his Junior and Leaving Certificate. It was huge he was able to do his exams,” he pointed out.
The man said he feels there is a chink of light and a possibility of recovery for his son but the doctors cannot say what condition he has yet because of his young age. Prof Kennedy said most people can’t be diagnosed until their 20s. “I want him to continue to have a therapeutic approach and not give up on him and see he gets better,” he said.
The father stressed that “none of this is an excuse for what happened” and his son was guilty for what he did to Ms Ng and he knows he is. “I apologise to the victim for the dreadful trauma she had to go through and I completely regret what happened,” he concluded.
Answering questions from the three-judge panel, the man said Prof Kennedy had treated his son and he understood that this meant that the doctor would not be testifying against him in court. The man said he and his wife had fully authorised the doctor’s notes to be given to whoever wanted them and there might have been a misunderstanding about this.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham asked the witness if Oberstown Children Detention Centre had got Prof Kennedy involved in treating his son. “Once my son went to Oberstown Prof Kennedy rang and asked if it was ok for him to treat him. I said yes, once you don’t testify against him in court,” he replied.
The father also told the court that his son has been attacked twice in the detention facility and he was moved to another unit.
In mitigation, Mr Gageby said his client had no convictions, made admissions at the time of his arrest and has a history of mental difficulties. The barrister highlighted the boy’s excellent conduct and progress in Oberstown Children detention Centre and said it was open to the court to consider a review at a later date.
In her submissions, Anne-Marie Lawlor SC for the State, said it was the DPP’s view that the boy must serve in excess of eight years to reflect the gravity of the crime but it was a matter for the court as to how that was structured.
Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, considered the matter for a number of minutes and said the court would give its decision on Wednesday. “We appreciate that people are anxious to see a conclusion,” he added.