A man has been sentenced to three years in prison for using coercion to control his family.
Imposing the sentence at Galway Circuit Criminal Court this week, Judge Rory McCabe concurred with findings of psychiatric and probation reports, that Paul Harkin (49) posed a high risk of reoffending and of committing violence against his partner.
Harkin, who formerly lived with his wife and two children near Kilchreest, Loughrea, pleaded guilty before the court last January to knowingly and persistently engaging in behaviour that was controlling or coercive on a date unknown between June 24th and August 13th last year at an unknown location, which had a serious effect on a woman who is or was his spouse, and the behaviour was such that a reasonable person would consider it likely to have a serious effect on a relevant person, contrary to Section 39 (1) and (3) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2018.
Judge McCabe heard evidence at Harkin’s sentence hearing last week but adjourned finalisation of sentence until this week to consider findings of the two reports.
The court heard Harkin believed in several conspiracy theories and his coercive control of his wife and two young children, then aged nine and seven, escalated ahead of the children’s return to school last September as he feared they would be vaccinated against Covid-19, which he believed was a hoax.
He also feared they would be brain-washed by the education system and wanted to home-school them.
He made veiled threats to his wife Fiona Clarke, that he would burn down their house and the homes of her extended family without warning, resulting in the loss of 12 lives, if she did not behave and do as she was told.
The court heard Harkin regularly had his wife withdraw money from her account for him, and spent most of his time watching conspiracy videos and drinking beer.
In a victim impact statement, Ms Clarke told the court she had been so immersed in everything she had not realised the seriousness of what was happening. Harkin regularly went into rages, damaging property in their home.
He emailed her conspiracy videos, gave her literature and quizzed her about the content. He flew into rages when she refused to answer, repeatedly telling her she was “stupid”.
On July 27th last year, Harkin threatened to chop Ms Clarke up and put her in a box.
“He told me I needed to learn to behave. He said he would start with my arms, then my legs and finally my head. He said all of this in front of the children.”
Ms Clarke said she was afraid of reporting this, and said she found out Harkin had told their nine-year-old daughter that chopping her up would be “as easy as chopping a tomato.”
Ms Clarke said she believed Harkin would follow through on his threats and that she lived in fear for when he was released from prison.
Det Sgt Paul Duane told the court Harkin controlled everything in Ms Clarke's and her children's lives, including what they could watch on TV, where they could go and who they could see.
Det Sgt Duane said he arrested Harkin on September 2nd last year, adding he had previous convictions from Northern Ireland in 1998 for threatening to kill a former partner there, for two aggravated burglaries and causing criminal damage for which he had received a two-year suspended sentence.
Judge McCabe said the level of threats and coercion led to a regime of fear and terror which Harkin waged on his family.
He noted the level of culpability was high as the assessment from the psychiatrist was that Harkin did not suffer from any mental illness and was aware of what he was doing.
The judge placed the headline sentence at four-and-a-half years which, he said, reflected the gravity of the offence, which carries a maximum tariff of five years.
The judge said Harkin continued to dispute and contest some of the allegations made against him which indicated no prospect of rehabilitation.
He directed Harkin have no contact with the victims and come under the supervision of the probation service for 12 months on his release from prison.
“The victim impact statement is unequivocal – that his wife remains in fear and that at least one of his children fears that when he gets out of prison he will hurt their mother,” Judge McCabe said before granting Harkin credit for time already served since he went into custody last September.