State fails in bid to jail man who sexually assaulted girl (14) he met on Snapchat

Man was given a two-year suspended sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court last year


An application by the State to jail a man who sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl after befriending her over Snapchat was rejected on Tuesday by the Court of Appeal.

The man, who is now 22 and cannot be identified for legal reasons, had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the girl, contrary to Section 2 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amended) Act 1990, at a hearing at the District Court, Midleton, Co Cork, in December 2020.

He also admitted to asking her to touch him, contrary to Section 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, and to contacting a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation, contrary to Section 7 of the same act, at the same hearing.

In February last year, he was given a two-year suspended sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) later appealed the sentence on the grounds it was unduly lenient.

On Tuesday, in an ex-tempore judgement delivered by Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding, sitting with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, the three-judge court said it was not going to interfere in the sentence handed down by Judge Donnabháin.

A full written judgement will be available at a later date, Mr Justice Edwards told the court.

The assault had taken place in a secluded spot by the seaside after the girl had agreed to meet the then 19-year-old male.

The man later fled the country following the incident on December 4th, 2018 and had been living in England before he returning to Ireland in July 2020.

At an earlier hearing, the State claimed the trial judge also erred by failing to place sufficient weight on the fact that the man must have known in advance of the offending that the injured party was underage.

Seeking to evade prosecution was another aggravating factor, Donal T McCarthy BL, for the DPP told the appellate court, adding that an entirely suspended sentence in this case was “not in accordance with principle”.

Elizabeth O’Connell SC, for the respondent, said the onus was on the director to show there had been a “substantial departure from the norm” in sentencing.

She said her client was a “young man” who “has not walked away from this without any deterrents”.

The offending, Ms O’Connell continued, has had a “very, very severe impact” on his life and he spent a month in custody after he was arrested following his return from England.

But he was now in full-time employment and “pulling his weight”, counsel added.

He had also pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, had no previous convictions prior to this offence, and has not come to the attention of gardaí since, she continued.