A military court has heard that a soldier who sexually assaulted a colleague during medical training has “already paid a heavy price”.
The accused, a non-commissioned officer, was convicted last year at a summary court martial of groping the female soldier during a demonstration of how to save someone from choking.
At a sentencing hearing on Friday in the Military Justice Centre in McKee Barracks, Dublin, the accused's defence barrister David Staunton appealed for leniency from the court.
The accused is an “impressive and sincere person” who has been walking around “under a cloud” since the process began, counsel said.
Military Judge Col Michael Campion responded that it was “a cloud of his own making”.
“It is not a cloud created by the system or by extraneous matters. He was in a position to do the right thing or the wrong thing. Unfortunately for him he did the wrong thing,” the judge said.
The identity of the accused, along with certain matters of evidence, cannot be reported by order of Col Campion.
The defendant was found guilty of sexual assault and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. He was acquitted of a similar charge for allegedly remarking “she has certainly done that before” when another female soldier pretended to remove a shirt from a mannequin during the first aid training.
The court heard that the accused was teaching a first aid course to a group of female recruits and was instructing them on how to aid someone who was chocking. As he demonstrated on the woman, he cupped her breast, leaving his hand there for between 10 and 20 seconds.
“I kind of froze. I felt very uncomfortable and was a little bit in shock and did not know how to react,” the woman recalled to the court.
She said during a later demonstration of the Heimlich manoeuvre the accused put his hand on her waist in an inappropriate manner which made her feel very uncomfortable.
Friday’s hearing was told the two parties had recently engaged in a restorative justice process which involved meeting up and discussing the impact of the accused’s actions. The court martial was told the woman and the accused found the process extremely beneficial.
Prosecuting counsel Cmdt Noel Conway said the victim does not want the accused named publicly for the sake of his family.
Mr Conway said systemic issues which may exist within the Defence Forces were not a matter for the Court Martial. Col Campion agreed.
Mr Staunton said his client fully accepted his guilt and was in no way trying to blame his actions on the system. Counsel said the accused “has already paid a heavy price” as he had to inform others about the court martial process.
“In large measure the process is the penalty,” Mr Staunton said.
Col Campion noted the range of penalties available went from a reprimand to imprisonment for life.
One possible penalty is a demotion in rank and the judge sought information on how such a penalty would impact the accused’s pension on retirement. He adjourned final sentencing until March 11th.