Pensioner gets five-year jail term for sexual abuse of his adopted daughter

Abuse by John Rossi took place on an almost daily basis, court told

Suzanne Connolly waived her right to anonymity. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Suzanne Connolly waived her right to anonymity. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES


An 80-year old man who sexually abused his adopted daughter on an almost daily basis over a four-year period received a five-year sentence Wednesday.

Jailing John Rossi, a former businessman, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said that despite his guilty pleas, the pensioner continues to blame the victim, claiming she was “sexually aware” and “manipulative”.

In his sentencing, Judge Kerr spoke of the “devastating impact” Mr Rossi’s behaviour has had on his adopted daughter, Suzanne Connolly, who was placed back into care when she reported the abuse.

Suzanne Connolly has waived her right to anonymity exclusively to The Irish Times, meaning that John Rossi can be named.

The Judge told Belfast Crown Court: “She was adopted in to this family, was horribly abused and yet she was rejected by the family and forced into the child care system that the defendant had originally appeared to save her from.”

At a previous hearing, the court was told that despite an initial complainant about Mr Rossi’s behaviour being made to police in 1985, there was “an astonishing lack of insight by the authorities at the time”.

Mr Rossi sexually abused his adopted daughter over a period from 1982 to 1985, when she was aged 11 to 14, with the incidents taking place in the family home in Belfast, at a holiday home in Donegal and in the family car.

The defendant’s behaviour was described by Crown barrister Kieran Murphy as “paedophilic child abuse within a family setting”. The senior QC said the offending occurred “on an almost daily basis”, with the victim later given “rewards for sexual favours.”

One of the last incidents of abuse occurred in the bath just before Suzanne Connolly left the family home when she was 14, which is around the same time she told a cousin what was happening to her.

She resided at a children’s home for a period, and in July 1985 she firstly confided in a member of staff, then made a statement to police.

Two years later, in 1987, she was visited in the children’s home by her father, but told him there would be no further contact until he “admitted the truth” to his wife. In that year, some admissions were made and in August 1987, a further statement was made to the police, but no further action was taken.

Mr Rossi was interviewed again in 2006, where he denied his daughter’s claims. However, the case was reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service in 2016, and in June 2018 the defendant pleaded guilty to 18 counts of indecent assault – but blamed the victim, claiming she had been provocative and had “brought it on herself”.

Gavan Duffy QC, representing the former businessman, said his client’s guilty plea “provides a public vindication and acknowledgment of the offending and the impact upon the victim in his case.”

During Wednesday’s sentencing, Judge Kerr spoke of a litany of “extremely serious” aggravating factors, including the breach of trust between father and daughter, and the long-lasting impact the behaviour has had on the injured party, who is now 47.

Judge Kerr noted a lack of action by the authorities, and the way the victim was “deprived” of her family and returned back to social care when she first spoke of what was happening to her.

The judge also noted the pensioner’s age and current state of health, pointing out that despite a range of health issues including incontinence and restricted mobility, other “old and infirm” defendants have been sent to prison for historic sex abuse.

Telling the court “an immediate custodial sentence is essential in this case”, Judge Kerr handed the pensioner a sentence of five years. He was led from the court to the cells using the assistance of a walking aid.