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'The higher the profile and success of a member of society, the greater the fall'

Former sports journalist Tom Humphries has been jailed for two-and-a-half years for grooming and sexually abusing a teenage girl.

THE HIGHER THE profile and success of a member of society, the greater the fall.

Those were the words of Judge Karen O’Connor as she sentenced former Irish Times sports journalist Tom Humphries to two-and-a-half years in prison yesterday for child sex abuse offences.

Humphries, 54, pleaded guilty in March to six offences dating from 2010 and 2011, including sexual exploitation and defilement of a child.

Judge O’Connor said the maximum sentence she could impose in relation to the defilement charges was five years. O’Connor said she believed a four-year sentence would be a headline figure in this case, before mitigating factors were taken into account.

The sexual exploitation charges carried a maximum term of life in prison, with the judge saying she considered three years as a headline figure before mitigating factors were considered.

O’Connor told the packed courtroom the offences were on the upper end of the mid-range of offending. She said the guilty plea meant the victim didn’t have to testify, but could have come earlier.

90527444 Tom Humphries arriving at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court earlier this month Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

The judge noted that Humphries had shown remorse, had no previous convictions and had been living “a reclusive lifestyle” in recent times.

O’Connor said he had lost his job, his reputation and “most of his friends”, stating it was ”difficult not to have some sympathy for him”. She said this comment was not intended to excuse his actions.

O’Connor said the injured party, who is now in her 20s, is “very strong” but has lost much of her childhood and innocence and “clearly still suffers” due to what happened.

Given the gravity of his actions, many people expected Humphries to receive a longer sentence.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre was among those to criticise the leniency of the sentence, urging anyone who was affected to call its 24-hour national helpline, 1800 77 8888.

Humphries showed little emotion in court yesterday afternoon, sitting with his hand to his face for much of the hearing.

Character references

Judge O’Connor said she considered letters of support from Humphries’ family members, including his daughters, and friends when deciding the sentence.

David Walsh, the chief sports writer for the Sunday Times, and former Cork hurling goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack were recently criticised after it emerged they wrote character references for Humphries.

In a statement issued to the Press Association yesterday, Walsh said he “unequivocally” condemns what Humphries did and has “every sympathy for the victim”.

Humphries may have lost “most of his friends”, according to the judge, but Walsh wasn’t one of those to abandon him.

In the statement, Walsh added that he has been friends with Humphries for 30 years and has continued to be his friend “because I believe a friend is there through thick and thin”.

Earlier this month, Cusack condemned Humphries’ crimes and apologised for writing the character reference, saying it “showed a lack of judgement”.

Following yesterday’s sentencing, Cusack resigned as senior hurling coach with Clare and stepped down from the board of Sport Ireland.

“I have informed the Clare County Board, Clare senior hurling management and players that I will not be resuming my position as coach in 2018…

“I have informed the Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport of my decision to resign from the Board of Sport Ireland, with immediate effect. I do not wish any controversy to detract from the important work of the board,” Cusack said in a statement.

Disparity in age and status

Judge O’Connor told the court aggravating factors in the case included the age and status differences between Humphries and the victim – he was “an eminent, respected journalist”, while she was a schoolgirl.

Aside from being one of the most well-known sports journalists in the country, Humphries was a voluntary coach with underage GAA teams.

It is through this latter role that the girl believed Humphries acquired her phone number.

In 2008, when she was 14, the victim tried out for the Dublin development camogie panel. When she was unsuccessful, she received an “encouraging” text from Humphries, the judge said.

O’Connor said Humphries was aware of the girl’s vulnerabilities, including an eating disorder, and would send her messages “telling her to eat and keep up her training”.

The messages were described as initially “innocuous and supportive in nature”.

Explicit messages 

Humphries later sent the girl two photos of his penis. The judge said the girl was “very upset” by this and deleted the images immediately. She told Humphries she didn’t want to receive anything like this again, and the texts went back to ‘normal’ chit chat.

The judge said Humphries was fully aware of the girl’s age, and sent her good wishes on her birthday.

When she turned 16, the messages became more sexual in nature.

O’Connor said Humphries asked the girl about her sexual experiences and other matters of a sexual nature. Over time, the girl became more comfortable with the increasingly adult nature of the messages.

However, the judge said the girl “did not take particularly seriously” Humphries saying he wanted to meet. He eventually invited her to meet and engage in sexual activity.

The pair arranged to meet at 10am on a Sunday outside the girl’s school. The victim recognised Humphries, then 47, from various camogie training sessions.

He brought her to his apartment, removed her clothing and performed oral sex on her. She then performed oral sex on him.

In a later interview with gardaí, the girl said she met Humphries on five occasions during which oral sex and other sexual acts occurred, but not full intercourse. Humphries also digitally penetrated the girl, the judge said yesterday.

Phone for charity shop

Details of the relationship between Humphries and the girl emerged by chance.

In March 2011, Humphries gave his daughter a phone that was due to be donated to a charity shop. When she put a SIM card into it, she saw messages that had saved to the handset.

She told her mother, from whom Humphries was already separated, and gardaí were informed. In court yesterday, the judge said Humphries was “distraught” by this revelation and became an inpatient at a psychiatric facility. On 25 September 2012, he was interviewed by gardaí but declined to say anything.

Over two years of correspondence between Humphries and the girl took place. The phone given to his daughter and two others were examined by gardaí.

Garda Jarlath Burke previously told the court around 16,000 text messages were exchanged between Humphries and the girl over a three-month period alone. Speaking yesterday, the judge said these messages were “relatively evenly split between the two”.

Both parties considered suicide

Medical reports previously delivered to the court stated that Humphries continued to present a very real suicide risk and that he didn’t want psychiatric treatment because he felt “he deserved to feel psychological pain”, something Judge O’Connor referenced again yesterday.

She also spoke about Humphries’ insomnia and cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). His legal team had argued that a neurocognitive disorder, which can decrease a person’s mental function, may have impaired his decision-making skills.

O’Connor said she was of the view that Humphries knew what he was doing was wrong.

When talking about the victim, the judge noted that she had been “blocking out childhood memories” in an effort to block out the abuse.

In a statement given to the judge, the victim said she had “feelings of guilt and shame” and suffered from depression, feeling suicidal at times. She went through counselling for a year-and-a-half but still had to deal with a “constant battle”, including permanent flashbacks and severe panic attacks.

The injured party said, since being classed as a victim, she has felt a sense of self-doubt and self-hatred, and lacked confidence. She had to take time off school and college, and had to deal with the loss of a passion and the loss of a lifestyle – referring to her love of camogie.

The victim said she felt bad for allowing herself to be manipulated by Humphries, but the judge said she did not allow herself to be manipulated, she was manipulated – by a man who was much older and more powerful.

Humphries has been in custody at the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise for the last three weeks. It is not yet clear where he will serve out the remainder of his sentence.

His life is about to become even more reclusive. Again, in the words of O’Connor: “It is a truism that the larger the profile and success of a member of society, the greater the fall.”

Read: Former Irish Times journalist Tom Humphries jailed for 2.5 years for child sex offences

Read: ‘I could not abandon him’: Journalist explains why he wrote reference for Tom Humphries

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Órla Ryan

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