Fallout for former judge Perrin will not end when jail term is complete
Legal history was made in the Criminal Courts of Justice yesterday when the first member of the judiciary convicted of a serious crime and forced to resign, was sent to prison.
Heather Perrin, a 61-year-old woman born into a modest background where third-level education was not an option, one who “pulled herself up by the bootstraps” to progress from legal secretary to qualified solicitor at the age of 31, and to a seat on the bench at 57, is now consigned to An Dóchas women’s prison.
Prisoners there now routinely double up in rooms designed as private singles, and sleep in “hard bunk beds with thin duvets”, in the words of one source.
A woman known for her liking for good jewellery and prestigious car marques, one for whom her public face and dignity were perceived to be particularly important, will be reduced to purchasing stock from the prison shop on a stipend of less than €2 a day.
However, one of the biggest challenges she faces in prison, perhaps, will be the known fact of her former occupation, a factor acknowledged by Judge Mary Ellen Ring.
The cataclysmic fallout from her crime will not end there. Perrin must bear the responsibility for the fact that her two adult children “have become a feature of the case”, said the judge, since they were “caught up in a nightmare not of their making, but of their mother’s”.
And even when Perrin has served her time, it is “unthinkable that she would be allowed to practise hereafter”, Judge Ring said. The “public disgrace” of being the first judge to be convicted will “mark her for the rest of her life”.
Genteel, middle-class women in pearls and men in business suits, many pillars of the north Dublin Anglican community, sat incongruously among throngs of criminology and transition-year students, members of the public and idle lawyers, listening as Judge Ring talked about “actions that do not indicate the greatest level of sophistication that could have been deployed”.
They heard details of her poor health from an orthopaedic consultant, Prof Damien McCormack, who spoke of a “very unusual”, “unexplained” life- and limb-threatening infection in Perrin’s calf area after an “uneventful” knee replacement operation last summer.
They also heard character evidence from the Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Dublin, David Pierpoint, noting her intensive, long-term involvement on the international council of the Girls’ Brigade.
There were also references to her private, charitable good works and time devoted to her community and her children’s schools. It is understood that one of her character references was from Olasupo Olorunyomi, a young Nigerian whom she helped in his lengthy battle to gain residency.
Judge Ring pronounced sentence of 2½ years. Without the medical issues, she said, she would have imposed a further year.
Clearly, Perrin had anticipated a suspended sentence. Her face registered deep shock, before turning, almost child-like, to seek out her husband, who stood up to comfort her.
As her face crumpled in distress, he held her for long moments, shielding her from the public gaze, while prison officers stood by. When she was led away through a side door, leaning heavily on her crutches, he collapsed into a seat, his head in his hands, shaking with grief.
Her brother Mark looked on helplessly amid audible weeping around the courtroom.