A Minister of the Eucharist who had been “living a lie for many years” has failed in his bid to have the eight-and-a-half-year jail term for sexually abusing a young girl over several years reduced on appeal.
The man - who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of his victim - was sentenced to twelve-and-a-half years with four years suspended at Sligo Circuit Criminal Court in November 2020 after he pleaded guilty to 23 counts of sexual assault against his victim between September 1999 and May 2011.
At one point, the man had built a garden shed which his victim believed was constructed for the purpose of committing sex assaults against her.
Now aged 67 and suffering from ill-health, the man launched an appeal against the severity of the sentence imposed by Judge Francis Comerford.
However, in an ex tempore judgment delivered on Friday at the Court of Appeal by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, sitting with Court President Mr Justice George Birmingham and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, the appeal was rejected.
Noting that the appellant previously served as a Minister of the Eucharist at his local church and had carried out charity work, Mr Justice McCarthy said the man had been “living a lie for many years”.
“The offending had been serious and the consequences have been devastating,” he continued.
“It seems to us that the judge did not fall out of the margin of appreciation in imposing a sentence of eight-and-a-half years.”
“We are not persuaded that the judge fell into an error in principle,” Mr Justice McCarthy concluded.
At the sentencing hearing, the victim - who is now in her 30s - told the court the attacks started when she was 10 years old.
Paralysed by fear
She said she had been “terrified” of her abuser and was left “paralysed by fear” during the assaults.
At last week’s appeal hearing (April 1), Eileen O’Leary SC, for the appellant, told the court that while she did not want to detract from the seriousness of the offending, or the impact it had on the victim, she was submitting that the sentence handed down had been “excessive and contained an error in principle”.
The custodial term was “disproportionate and outside the norm”, she said, and did not adequately reflect the mitigating circumstances.
She said her client had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had made admissions to the child protection agency TUSLA even before a complaint had been made to gardai.
The man, Ms O’Leary added, had no previous convictions and no history of wrongdoing prior to these offences and had offered a public apology to the victim.
Leo Mulrooney BL, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, told the three-judge court that the abuse was disclosed to the authorities when the victim reached her late 20s.
The woman, Mr Mulrooney said, provided four “substantive statements”, which ran for 29 pages and which detailed the nature of the allegations against the man.
“From age of 11 onwards, the abuse mostly took place in the appellant’s car,” Mr Mulrooney told the court.
“Thereafter, it was in his house at a time when he arranged to take her into her care and do cookery with her.”
In one incident, counsel said the victim had been dragged to a bathroom and locked in before being forced to perform a sexual act for her abuser.
Mr Mulrooney also told the court that the appellant would carry out attacks in a garden shed and that the victim believed he had built the shed with this purpose in mind.
“Over the years she has been prescribed medication for anxiety, had developed an unhealthy relationship with food, had been self-harming as a teenager and had frequent thoughts of ending her life,” he said.
The sentence imposed displayed “a generous acknowledgement of the mitigating factors and fell within the judge’s margin of appreciation”, he added.