Man due in court over sexual assault on girls in Athlone

Suspect charged in connection with ‘horrific’ attack on two children attending birthday party

A man was due to appear in court this morning charged in connection with a serious sexual assault on two young girls who were attending a birthday party in Athlone last Saturday afternoon.

The man was scheduled to appear before Longford District Court at 10.30am charged in connection with the incident.

The two girls, aged six and nine, were back with their families yesterday after being treated in hospital following the attack.

Up to 100 people were still gathered last night outside Athlone Garda station where the man was questioned during the day. The crowds had been even larger earlier in the day.

Community leaders have called for calm amid widespread anger at what gardaí described as a “horrific and catastrophic attack”.

Mayor of Athlone Cllr Gabrielle McFadden called on residents not to overreact and to have faith in the Garda investigation. “People shouldn’t panic. Gardaí are doing their job. They shouldn’t comment or jeopardise this case. It’s important that people settle down. There is nothing to be gained by standing outside the Garda barracks – justice has to take its natural course.”

But one of the organisers of the protest, Anthony Francis, a plumber and father of two, said the gathering was a way of highlighting people's anger at what happened. "People are sickened. People are angry. My own kids play right beside where this happened."

Specialist interviewer
Officers are planning to use the services of a specialist interviewer to help establish what happened to the two children. Sources say the girls were outside a house at a party in a residential area of the town at 4pm when they went to another building nearby.

After being lured inside, they were detained in a room where they were assaulted. The alarm was raised when they escaped through a window and returned to the party a short time later.

An immediate attempt was made to forcefully apprehend a man close to the apartment where the assault took place.

Joanne Hewitt (32), who was carrying a placard outside the Garda station, said the attack meant she could no longer let her children play unsupervised. "I'm physically, physically, physically sick. They're only babies. I'm just thinking of my children."