Man jailed for two years for sexual assault of woman during visit to west Cork island

Judge praises victim for her honesty and credibility during distressing testimony

The man was unanimously found guilty by a jury. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

The man was unanimously found guilty by a jury. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

A man (34) has been jailed for two years after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman whom he drove home from a bar where he worked.

Duncan Harper from Cape Clear off the west Cork coast was unanimously found guilty earlier this month by a jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court of two counts of sexually assaulting the woman, who was in her early 20s, on the island on June 23rd, 2019.

The young woman, who was a visitor to the island, told the three-day trial that there was a music session in the Club Chléire pub on the island that night that went on well into the early hours of the morning of June 23rd and Harper offered to give her a lift home after shutting up the bar.

“Duncan went to close up the bar at 5am… I was going to walk home. Duncan offered me a lift home. Initially, I refused but I would have seen him talking to people I trusted and there was two men in the van.

“Duncan dropped the two men on the way to where I was staying. He said he could drop me home or would he give me a tour of the island. I was being polite. I said, ‘I don’t mind’. But I was exhausted. I was up since 7am. He went up a massive hill to the opposite side of the island.

“I realised I did not want to be there. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. At a certain point he leaned in to kiss me. I said ‘No’. I turned towards the door. I felt totally uncomfortable and quite frightened. I turned away and said ‘No’.

“I was trying to make small chat. I was up nearly 24 hours. I had a few drinks (in the pub earlier). I started falling in and out of sleep. He put his hand inside my top. He put his hand inside my bra. He felt my right breast. He told me to relax, he would drive me home.

“I would have been going in and out of sleep – aware his hand was inside my dress, on my leg, on the upper part of my leg, my right leg. It was a struggle to get his hand away,” said the woman, who told a friend what happened when she arrived back at her accommodation.

Harper did not give evidence at the trial but during cross-examination of the complainant, defence barrister Stephen O’Donoghue BL said his client denied that he had offered to bring her on a tour of the island or that he ever sexually assaulted her in any way.

The young woman became upset at the suggestion that her account was untrue and said: “I would not be here if my recollection of the evening was untrue. This has battered my confidence. It has taken two years from my life. Why on earth would I put myself through that?”

On Wednesday, Garda Keith O’Leary of Skibbereen Garda Station handed in a Victim Impact Statement on behalf of the woman but it was not read out in court. Garda O’Leary confirmed that Harper had no relevant previous convictions.

Mr O’Donoghue BL said that Harper was a hard-working man who was active in co-operative activities for the betterment of the island, he was involved in voluntary work and was a carer for his blind father, as he pleaded for leniency for his client.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said that he had found the young woman entirely credible and it was clear from her evidence to the court that she found relating what happened after she ended up on her own with Harper extremely distressing.

“After the defendant, who was the barman, closed up he offered a lift to two workmen on the island and to the victim. It was central to the defence he did not know which hostel she was staying in. I find it entirely incredible he did not know where she was living when he went around the island.

“Her account was entirely truthful. He brought her on an excursion around the island and assaulted her by placing his hand upon her breast and also putting his hand on her elsewhere. All of the details about roads, by-ways, maps and townlands were all a deviation by the defendant to avoid the truth.

“The most telling thing the victim said was that she really did not know one place from the next,” said Judge Ó Donnabháin, adding that the most important thing was that she had told of the sexual assaults occurring in the defendant’s van.

“Anyone in the court could see the enormous distress – the palpable agony – the victim went through, giving evidence, by the mere reciting of the events. Reliving the events was a torment for the victim almost as bad as the assaults. I saw this as a serious case.

“This honest, reliable, concerned girl was assaulted in his vehicle .... I did not see – maybe I missed it – much, if anything, by way of remorse,” said Judge Ó Donnabháin, as he sentenced Harper to two years in jail, backdated to when he was first taken into custody on June 17th.