Humphries sentence ‘should have reflected seriousness of breach of trust’

Campaigners say 2½-year jail term too lenient for high-profile journalist

Tom Humphries: “The ‘higher’ the position the greater the breach of trust. Sentencing should reflect that,” said Mary Flaherty of Children at Risk in Ireland. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Tom Humphries: “The ‘higher’ the position the greater the breach of trust. Sentencing should reflect that,” said Mary Flaherty of Children at Risk in Ireland. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Groups working with survivors of rape and sexual abuse have described the 2½ year sentence given to Tom Humphries as lenient. They also said the judge’s comments when sentencing the former Irish Times journalist for grooming and sexually abusing a teenager showed inappropriate empathy with the 54-year-old.

Mary Flaherty, chief executive of Children at Risk in Ireland, said she was amazed by the sentence, “given the sustained, predatory nature of the grooming”, and by the remarks of the judge, “suggesting the sentence had to take into account the fact that he was [of high standing] in the community”.

Judge Karen O’Connor said at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that “it would be difficult not to have sympathy for him”, although she added that was “not to excuse his behaviour”. He had already suffered in falling from his high-profile position, she said, and she took this into account when sentencing. “It’s something of a truism to say the higher the profile and success of a member of society the greater the fall.”

Ms Flaherty said most child sex abuse was perpetrated by people who were trusted. “To suggest if he were a less prominent figure in the community he would get a longer sentence is amazing. I think the ‘higher’ the position the greater the breach of trust. Sentencing should reflect that. I think there should be more consequences, not less, for people who betray that trust.”

“Little empathy for the victim”

Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, also described the sentence as lenient, adding the judge’s remarks seemed to show “more concern with the impact of the case on Humphries and his family than on the victim who was abused”. “I am taken back to [the young woman’s] testimony, in which she said the abuse had cost her her childhood. In explaining the leniency of her sentence, the judge said she was taking his previously ‘high profile’ position into account. It seems to be an inappropriate level of empathy for him, with little empathy for the rights of the victim.”

Ms Blackwell reiterated her call for consistent sentencing guidelines in rape cases, “which are clear and which judges are bound by. It is a feature with our system of sentencing that different judges take different factors into account. There is an inconsistency in sentencing.”

Maeve Lewis, executive director of the abuse-support charity One in Four, shared Ms Blackwell’s concern about “inconsistent” sentencing, particularly in the Circuit Court. “We have to accept judges make decisions about sentencing taking into account a wide range of factors, but we are concerned at the inconsistencies.”

Ms Lewis also expressed concern about character references being admitted in rape or sex-abuse trials. “These references reflect a whole societal attitude towards sex offences, especially sexual offences against children, which tends to minimise its impact on the victim. Minimising allows people in wider society to avoid seeing what’s happening.”