German academic sentenced over Waterford child abduction

Thomas Pfeiffer held boy (11) at his home under false pretences


academic has been given a three-year suspended prison sentence in the Circuit Criminal Court in Waterford for abducting and falsely imprisoning an 11-year-old boy.

Thomas Pfeiffer (50), single and a native of Berlin, Meadowview, Coolfin, Portlaw, Co Waterford, was convicted by a jury of abduction and false imprisonment of a German boy who came to Ireland to stay with a host family to improve his English.

The court heard that Pfeiffer, who worked at the Waterford Institute of Technology, operated a one-man organisation advertising on the internet host families for foreign students coming to Ireland to learn English.


He pretended to have a “Barbara O’Neill” as a member of staff and he made arrangements in 2009 for the boy to stay for five months with a family in Tramore.

Judge Pauline Codd said it was an unusual and bizarre case and the court was none the wiser of the man's motives. The way the boy was treated was very frightening and upsetting, she said.

Host family
Garda Jennifer Ryan of Tramore said the boy's mother discovered days before he was due to travel he was not going directly to the host family in Tramore but would stay the weekend in the man's home.

She rang Pfeiffer to query this and he told her that the boy would be staying with a fictitious “Cahill family near Carrick-on-Suir”. No such family existed and the boy stayed in Pfeiffer’s house for two nights.

He slept in a restricted sleeping bag with compartments for his arms and legs. It was described as a “straitjacket” and he was zipped in and was unable to get out until released.

Over the two-day stay, Pfeiffer weighed and measured the boy and required him to do language tests and physical exercises that left him exhausted.

The boy felt uncomfortable and frightened. When he was handed over to the real host family in Tramore, he was upset and he contacted his mother, who travelled to Ireland.

In a victim impact report, the boy’s mother said her son had been open and full of trust but this “imprisonment” in Pfeiffer’s house had had a negative affect on him.

Telling lies
John O'Kelly SC, defending, said his client, who had been in prison since December 6th, realised that he was wrong in telling lies and giving the impression that he was part of an organisation when in fact he was the only person involved. He "had nothing untoward was done to the boy.

Mr O'Kelly said his client had a distinguished academic research career. He was a doctor of engineering and was currently working as a senior research fellow at the Technical University of Berlin. He was very sorry for the upset caused to the family and he had no intention of doing so and would have no further involvement in language courses.

Judge Codd said Pfeiffer had a lack of insight into his offending. The three-year prison sentence was backdated to December 6th and suspended for three years. Suspended sentences of one year each were imposed on the two counts of false imprisonment.