One man’s long fight to put the uncle who raped him behind bars
As a child Stephen Kershaw was abused by Brian Doolan, a legal lecturer who wrote about children’s rights
Stephen Kershaw: “I got justice, but if I’d known then what I know now, I never would have gone through with it.” Photograph: Alan Betson
“I tell people I’m done and dusted with it all now,” says Stephen Kershaw. “I don’t make decisions in my life now based on what happened back then. “I’m not going to stop my kids going on sleepovers because of what happened to me. That would be him deciding how I run my life.”
Kershaw is at the end of a long road, finally free to talk about his painful journey and grateful for the life before him and his young family.
When he talks of not allowing “him” dictate his life, he is speaking of Brian Doolan, the man he at times still refers to as Uncle Brian.
Doolan is a well-known figure in legal circles but his life as an abuser has never been publicised before now
But Uncle Brian was tormenter to his nephew. A manipulative paedophile, he took advantage of his position as “the king of the family” so he could abuse the boy who looked up to him and craved his approval.
Doolan, now 72 and serving a 10-year jail term for the abuse he subjected his nephew to as a child, is a well-known figure in legal circles but his life as an abuser has never been publicised before now. Despite repeated court appearances and several criminal trials, he could not be named for legal reasons.
Those legal restrictions have now expired, and his nephew has decided to waive his anonymity to speak to The Irish Times.
Doolan worked as a criminal barrister as a younger man before going on to lecture in the law. He was senior lecturer in legal studies in the business faculty at Dublin Institute of Technology. He wrote books regarded as the definitive works of reference for those studying in the field and for legal practitioners.
One of his seven legal texts, Principles of Irish Law, was first published in 1981. The eighth edition was published in 2011, by which time, unbeknown to its publishers, he was under investigation for a string of sex crimes.
In fact Doolan was writing a book that included chapters on the finer points of children’s rights under the law at a time when he knew a major investigation into his own crimes against children was nearing conclusion.
Back in the 1990s Doolan also became one of the first single men in the State to adopt a child from abroad, a baby boy from eastern Europe who is now an adult.
The Adoption Authority has declined to comment on the case.
However, The Irish Times has learned that long before he had legally adopted a child abroad, Doolan registered a bogus home birth in Dublin.
Gardaí believed that at the time, in 1984, he planned to travel to Asia and acquire a baby on the black market, though he never went through with the plan.
Reliable Garda sources said he regretted using his own name when registering the bogus home birth for a child who never existed and decided against persisting with his plans.
When he later adopted legally, an acquaintance who knew he was a sexual abuser went to Dublin Airport to try to convince him not to leave the country to collect the child. However, Doolan travelled. He then made history in taking a challenge to the Labour Relations Commission to the laws that offered no parental leave to single adoptive fathers.
Four years of abuse
Doolan was convicted more than 12 months ago of abusing his nephew Stephen over a four-year period beginning in 1989.
He had pleaded not guilty to 44 counts of abuse, including 11 counts of rape, and was convicted on all but two counts.
Stephen had just turned 13 years when the abuse began and was 16 years old when it ended. His life would later descend into a haze of alcohol abuse, violence, disorder and self-harm as he self-medicated and spun out of control.
On another occasion he took a meat cleaver to his body and still carries a large scar on his wrist as a reminder
In his darker episodes, while “mindlessly drunk”, he tried to take his own life twice. And on another occasion he took a meat cleaver to his body and still carries a large scar on his wrist as a reminder.
However, what he refers to – with more than a hint of black humour – as “the meat cleaver episode” would prove to be a turning point.
Now he’s a survivor. More than that, he’s a thriver.
He is a 41-year-old father-of-three, including a newborn, and runs two successful online retail businesses.
For kicks, he drives racing cars; quite successfully, too. He won the Hawthorn Trophy, a national competition for circuit racing. He also has several other national titles on his CV and spent a couple of seasons racing in Britain.
Lately he has been climbing mountains and has just returned from scaling Island Peak, close to Everest.
He has come out of the other side.
He was 20 before he told his parents about the abuse, but it was another 12 years before he was able to contact the support agency One in Four. Another six years would pass before his uncle was convicted.
The process fostered inner strength and personal growth, he says. But at the same time it nearly killed him, especially the combative court case, which made him feel like he was the one on trial.
“I got justice, but if I’d known then what I know now, I never would have gone through with it,” he says.
Head of the family
It all started in Dublin in 1989. Stephen was a schoolboy living in Swords, ready to leave primary school.
Doolan, he says, was the self-appointed head of the family; the most educated of them all and the high achiever to whom everyone turned for advice.
“That was the pedestal he put himself on, and everyone else put him on, really,” he says.
Doolan grew up on Captain’s Road, Crumlin, and then moved to Inchicore with his family in 1960, aged 15.
Always a bright student and sure of his abilities, Doolan was educated at St James’s CBS on James Street and eventually went on to study law at Trinity College Dublin.
He was one of six siblings. He was fiercely independent, paying his way through college with part-time work. On leaving secondary school, he first worked as a postman before his time at Trinity. Once there he worked night shifts in the Irish Press.
When his brother was electrocuted aged 21 on a building site in England, he was the one who stepped forward to go and collect the remains, sparing his parents the ordeal.
Stephen recalls that when he was “aged 12, going on 13” in 1989, Doolan moved from Inchicore to Templeogue.
“He’d say to my Mam, ‘Does Stephen fancy coming over to the new house to help me with a bit of work?’ And of course we’d agree.”
The very first time, when it came to bedtime, I just went straight to his bed. I just didn’t dawn on me
Stephen helped his uncle with the jobs and often stayed overnight in the house.
It was during the night, when uncle and nephew would sleep in the same bed, that the abuse took place.
“The very first time, when it came to bedtime, I just went straight to his bed,” he says. “I just didn’t dawn on me; I didn’t think anything of it. I assumed there weren’t any other beds in the house.”
He would wake to find his uncle performing oral sex on him during the night; the first in a long series of acts of sexual violence.
“There was no ‘This isn’t right’ moment, there was none of that at all,” says Stephen, who was too young and innocent to know that what was happening was wrong. “And life continued as normal the following morning. We did whatever jobs on the house. I got a lift into town and I’d get the bus home.”
Asked whether the abuse hung over him at the time, he said it “didn’t register at all”.
“As it continued, there was never even any thought that I would tell somebody about it,” he says. “It’s hard to explain it without sounding like an idiot when you look back on it. But when he’d ask my mam if I wanted to go to his house the following weekend, you’d never say no.”
Mostly he went for sleepovers during the spring and summer, once every four or five weeks each year.
On another occasion the abuse took place while holidaying in Westport, Co Mayo, and also in Doolan’s car in the Phoenix Park.
Years later when he was trying to piece the attacks into evidence, he could link abuse to key dates: the night of the famous Ireland-Holland clash at the 1990 World Cup; a holiday in Mayo where he was abused under the noses of his own family; the night of a Guns N’ Roses concert in Slane in May 1992; and a couple of weeks after the release of the children’s movie Kindergarten Cop in 1991.
When he was 16, the abuse “just stopped”. His uncle preferred younger victims, he believes. “There has to be loads of other victims,” says Stephen. “He was a scout leader and a football referee. I think you can draw your own conclusions.”
Stephen’s heavy drinking started not long after the abuse stopped. He would drink to get drunk and generally became disengaged, angry and self-destructive. His performance in school “nosedived”. He repeated his Leaving Cert. Despite everything, he progressed to study science at Tallaght Regional Technical College. However, he soon dropped out, getting a job at a children’s play centre, all the while drinking heavily.
Nights of violence
Often his behaviour ended in violence and self-harm. Many nights ended in hospital or a Garda station. Fights with friends were not uncommon.
He believed his drinking, anger and his general drift through his late teens and most of his 20s is tied to the abuse.
“What had happened was always there in the background; always humming away,” he says. “But if you acknowledge it, you have to do something about it. For years I just wasn’t strong enough.”
He tried to end his life twice as his teenage years ended. But “the meat cleaver episode” brought his situation to the boil and sobered him up, all at the same time.
It happened just after Christmas 1996, after he had returned home extremely drunk. He began rambling incoherently to his mother and then started a fight with his father.
“I broke the door off the dishwasher because I pulled him across it. There was murder. I picked up the meat cleaver and did that,” he says, pointing to the scar on his wrist.
While sitting on his neighbour’s couch waiting for an ambulance, he simply turned to his mother and disclosed that her brother had sexually abused him for years
With blood pouring from his wound, a neighbour and close friend of the family walked into the house, providing a moment of clarity for Stephen.
“He calmed me down and we went into his house. I was thinking that he was the only one who wasn’t part of the family, wasn’t against me.”
And while sitting on his neighbour’s couch waiting for an ambulance, he simply turned to his mother and disclosed that her brother had sexually abused him for years.
With the disclosure made to his parents, they broke off contact with Brian Doolan and Stephen immediately stopped drinking. His life would turn a corner but justice was still a long way off.
He began working in a car valet company and became a supervisor; five good years with stability and responsibility followed after a chaotic period.
He later went to work in his father’s engineering company and would progress through that position to establish the Irish branch of a German multinational engineering firm. From there he established the online retail businesses he now owns.
He took up competitive driving in 1997, quickly progressing.
He met his partner in Mondello race track in 2012. Recently they welcomed their third child, bringing the Kershaw brood to two girls and one boy.
Life has been good, aside from the near 10-year legal process that began when he went to the Garda about his uncle. The legal system that is supposed to serve victims nearly broke him, he says.
Reporting the crimes
With the help of One in Four he went to the Garda in Terenure station. He sings the praises of Det Garda Tom Stack and his colleagues. A detailed statement was painstakingly checked and rechecked by the Garda. Nine months later his uncle was arrested.
The Garda searched Doolan’s home and his office at DIT’s campus on Aungier Street, where he was a senior law lecturer, and took away computers and other evidence.
Stephen says that during the trial he felt he was placed under extreme pressure by Doolan’s legal team
However, it would be another three years, in 2011, before the DPP directed criminal charges should be pursued. Two more years passed before the trial began. Doolan pleaded not guilty to 44 charges of sexual abuse, including 11 counts of rape. He was convicted on 42 of the charges and sentenced to 12 years with two suspended.
Stephen says that during the trial he felt he was placed under extreme pressure by Doolan’s legal team. “They’re asking you about what colour the walls were in the house you said the abuse took place in, how many bedrooms it had.
“They’re asking if the house had a gravel driveway or what the view was out the front window. And you’re saying ‘I’m not sure, I don’t know’. And the barrister is looking at the jury [as if to say] ‘He can’t remember anything’.”
The situation was made worse when statements he had given to the HSE were mixed up with another person’s statement. The detail of the other person’s statement was put to him as his evidence, forcing him to strongly deny it and causing great confusion and stress.
The statement had been taken from Stephen by the HSE as part of its investigation into Doolan’s adoption of a child from abroad.
Trial and vindication
The entire trial process was not what he expected. He believed it would be an opportunity to “tell the world” what he had suffered.
Instead he felt his integrity was put on trial.
“If I had known it would be like this, I wouldn’t have done it and that’s the God’s honest truth,” Stephen says now.
“I’ve said to One in Four not to let me talk to any other victims because I’d advise them not to do it. It’s terrible.”
But it has been cathartic, too.
For years he thought he would be outmanoeuvred by Doolan and that he would simply be unable to tell his story in court.
Once in the courtroom he began to gain confidence in that environment, and the power of the abuser over the victim began to shift
“But that’s where the strength comes from; in being able to tell the story. To stand dead straight and be able to be questioned on it. And to do that without crumbling, especially in front of him.
“These are all the things I rooted around in my head over the years. As each court date came and went, I felt stronger that I could sit in there and look at it.”
And once in the courtroom he began to gain confidence in that environment, and the power of the abuser over the victim began to shift.
“You say to yourself, ‘I looked at him today in court and I looked into his eyes’. And you think of that for the next month. That was an important process; from going into a court, though you didn’t want to be there, to reading out the victim-impact statement and addressing him directly and looking at him.
“The bits where I addressed him, I looked directly down on him, straight down on him. It was like closing off boxes; finally facing this f***er.”
The guilty verdict was “the highest crest of a wave”.
“You’re thinking we may not get to the top of this, we may get swallowed. And you’re holding hands with members of your family and you’re waiting for a ‘G’ or an ‘N’ when the foreman of the jury stands up. And then you get the first ‘Guilty’ and 20 minutes later he is still reading out ‘Charge No 38, Guilty’. And you think, Oh my God, we just got all of them.
“It was a vindication that these people in front of me believed my story over his. I was vindicated.”