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Cathal Crotty’s suspended sentence another example of how judicial system is failing women

The administration of justice for violent men is out of kilter with our values and we can no longer suspend disbelief

Natasha O'Brien was assaulted by Irish soldier Cathal Crotty: That the judge seemed to think it desirable a violent homophobe and misogynist should continue to serve alongside gay and female colleagues in the Army is just one of the more incomprehensible aspects of the case. Photograph: Brendan Gleeson

Karl Sutton banged Tiffany Curtis’s head off the floor and off the walls. Before she blacked out “she remembered him dancing on her back and telling her he would hurt their baby if she continued to lie”. He got a four-year prison sentence. All of it was suspended.

Raymond McGarry sexually assaulted a woman at an open-air music event in Athy, which she was attending with her children, the youngest of whom was seven. He had nine previous convictions. The judge found he was “full of contrition” and fully suspended the 18-month sentence he imposed on him.

Adam Keane got the same train home as Mary Shannon, the woman he had raped in her own home, after the judge had fully suspended his three-year jail sentence. In the car park at Ennis station, he “looked straight at her as he was getting into his mother’s car, raised his hand and flicked his cigarette butt at her”. Only then was the sentence activated.

Dainius Sakevicius punched his partner multiple times in the head and face. She went to St Vincent’s hospital and was later referred to St James’s Hospital. Sakevicius got a sentence of one year and nine months – which was fully suspended.


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Michael Kelly got into a taxi driven by a woman. When she dropped him off at his house, he went in without paying the fare. She knocked on the open front door and then put her foot in it to stop it being closed. Kelly chased her out into the street and punched her several times. He was given a two-year jail sentence – fully suspended on condition he pay his victim €3,000.

We have ended up with a distorted system in which hundreds of people go to jail for non-violent offences and the non-payment of fines but violent and dangerous men go free

James “Jake” Boles subjected his partner to “physical abuse on a weekly basis”. This included “dragging the complainant by the hair along the floor, putting his hand over her mouth while violently screaming abuse in her ear and pushing his fist into her face, causing bruising. The sentencing court also heard he pushed the woman down a stairs and on another occasion verbally abused her and slammed her head against a headboard.” The court set the headline sentence at three years, deducted a year for his guilty plea and previous good behaviour – and then fully suspended the remaining two years. The Court of Appeal later overturned this and resentenced Boles to one year in jail.

Joe Dunne, who was then a priest, sexually assaulted a vulnerable young woman whom he was purporting to help, on five separate occasions, once when he was actually driving her to a rape crisis centre. He was sentenced to four years in jail – fully suspended. This was overturned on appeal and he was sentenced to two years.

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John Redmond harassed a woman who did not want to be in a relationship with him. He threw a rubbish bin at her, then “pushed her down on the ground. When she got back up, he pushed her again and she fell against a wall and hit her head.” He got an 18-month sentence – fully suspended on condition that he pay his victim €5,000.

This is just a random selection of reported cases. But it’s enough to make the point that there is nothing especially unusual about what happened to Natasha O’Brien. She was beaten unconscious by Cathal Crotty in an unprovoked assault on O’Connell Street in Limerick. Crotty boasted about it on Snapchat: “Two to put her down, two to put her out.” He got a three-year sentence, but it was fully suspended on condition that he pay O’Brien €3,000.

This sentence is certainly staggering, not least because the judge said he took into account the desirability of preserving Crotty’s “career” in the Army. That the judge seemed to think it desirable that a violent homophobe (Crotty had been “shouting ‘faggot’ at other people on the street”) and misogynist should continue to serve alongside gay and female colleagues is just one of the more incomprehensible aspects of the case.

Yet, if we take away this particular dimension and also subtract Natasha O’Brien’s powerful articulation of her entirely justified sense of outrage, this is not a freak outcome. Without meaning to, the courts have created a pretty good instruction manual for men who attack women. Plead guilty when you realise the evidence is overwhelming. Come up with the few thousand euro that is supposed to make up for the victim’s physical pain, mental trauma, humiliation and loss of confidence, trust and even of her livelihood. And there’s a very good chance you’ll walk away without seeing the inside of a jail cell.

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The State can, and sometimes does, appeal these suspended sentences. But even when they do so successfully, the violent criminal still gets the benefit of the original, outrageously light punishment. This is not obvious to the public, but it seems to be an unofficial policy of the higher courts.

In 2020, for example, the Director of Public Prosecutions successfully appealed an 18-month suspended sentence given to Stephen Connor for “a protracted and fairly brutal onslaught” on his former partner. Ms Justice Úna Ní­ Raifeartaigh said the appropriate custodial sentence would be 2½ years. “However, as it was the court’s practice to exercise extra clemency where a person’s sentence was converted from being fully suspended to a custodial one on appeal, she said the final year of the sentence would be suspended.”

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So, if the lower court gives a perpetrator a suspended sentence, the Court of Appeal, even if it finds that this failed to do justice to the suffering of the victim, will still give that perpetrator “extra clemency”. Nearly getting away with it means that you get away with at least some of it. It’s as if the courts feel obliged to compensate the abuser for his disappointment at having to serve some time after all.

This has to stop. We have ended up with a distorted system in which hundreds of people go to jail for non-violent offences and the non-payment of fines but violent and dangerous men go free. This is the precise opposite of what the public wants. When the administration of justice is so out of kilter with the values of the community, we can no longer suspend our disbelief.