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Courts

Former Christian Brother jailed for one year for abusing two pupils more than 45 years ago

Both men indicated that they wish to retain their anonymity but are happy for Merrick to be named in reporting the case.

A former Christian Brother has been jailed for a year for the abuse of two pupils in a Dublin school almost 47 years ago.

John Merrick (77) of Portmarnock Park, Portmarnock, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four charges of indecent assault against one sixth class pupil and three charges of indecent assault against his classmate on dates between September 1977 and June 1978. Both men are now 58 years old.

Both men indicated that they wish to retain their anonymity but are happy for Merrick to be named in reporting the case.

Merrick, who entered the Christian Brothers order at the age of 14, subsequently left the order in 1981 after meeting his now wife. He has two children and a number of grandchildren.

He has previous convictions from the District Court in relation to similar offending around the same time. These incidences of abuse were reported in 1996 and he was later convicted in 1998, resulting in a six month suspended sentence and a 12 month suspended sentence.

Philipp Rahn SC, defending, told the court that at the time of the convictions from the District Court, Merrick engaged in a sex offender treatment programme and also subsequently engaged in the Restorative Justice Programme.

One of the men took the stand to read his victim impact statement into the record.

He said this was meant to be a victim impact statement but he found it difficult to assess the exact impact the abuse had on him, as he was a little boy in primary school at the time.

He said he cannot bear for anyone to touch him and doesn’t know if this would have been the case, had Merrick not touched him inappropriately as a child.

“He used his power to take advantage of me,” the man continued and said he wondered would he have turned out to a more amiable and trusting person if he had not been molested by Merrick.

The man said he has a short explosive temper and he can be quite blunt and direct. He often wonders, when he compares himself to his siblings, if he may have had a much different temperament, more like his family, had he not been abused as a child.

“Would I be more approachable if it were not for the abuse?” he said. He spoke of being terrified when his own daughter started school.

He said he has suffered from depression for many years and while he cannot say that this was totally due to Merrick’s actions, he feels it has contributed to it.

Finally, he spoke of reporting the case – “It won’t make those feelings go away but I hope that justice can now be served and I can get on with my life.”

Judge Pauline Codd said the man had been “courageous” in delivering his victim impact statement before the court and described it as an articulate account of the impact the abuse had on him. She thanked him and noted that he did not seek to lay all the blame at the feet of the accused.

“He has shown a great level of self-awareness and gave a very balanced account of the impact the abuse had on him. It is a tragedy that victims have to live with this for the rest of their life and that is fully accepted by the court,” Judge Codd said.

She acknowledged that the law which existed at the time of the offending meant that the maximum penalty available to the court is two years.

She said the law at the time “did not acknowledge the impact of such abuse on young children” before she added that “additional sentencing powers” now exist that recognise the seriousness of such abuse.

“That was sadly not a feature of society at the time of these events,” Judge Codd said.

The judge also noted that the court has no way of knowing what Merrick’s psychological profile was at the time he was abusing these children. She noted that Merrick was 14 years old when he entered the religious order adding that “sexual repression and isolation was rife at the time” in the order. 

Judge Codd imposed a sentence of 12 months for the offences against the first man and a consecutive 10 month term for the offences against the second man.

She said the most significant aggravating factors in the case where the youth of the two victims at the time and the breach of trust involved. She said the young boys were clearly afraid of Merrick at the time and of what was happening to them.

She acknowledged that Merrick had pleaded guilty and said this was of significance in terms of acceptance of responsibility and had saved the two men from having to give evidence.

“They would have been worried as to whether they would be believed”, Judge Codd commented adding that guilty pleas are of assistance, particularly in historical case such as this.

Judge Codd also accepted that Merrick has not come to garda attention since and has demonstrated an awareness of the impact of his offending through a letter of remorse he had written for the court.

Judge Codd imposed consecutive sentences totalling 22 months in prison before she suspended the final 10 months of the term on strict conditions for 12 months.

ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE

Garda John Doyle told Diana Stuart BL prosecuting that the men were classmates in Merrick’s sixth class and they both later told gardaí that it was a crowded class broken into three different sections.

The first man reported to gardaí in 2022 that he could recall 10 specific incidents of being sexually abused by Merrick while he was checking his homework. He said Merrick would sit in beside him and place his left arm around his shoulder.

He said Merrick would speak in a soft, low and intimate voice before running his fingers across his thighs, crotch and stomach. He said Merrick would sometimes abuse him over his school trousers and other times he would undo the child’s fly and molest him through his underwear.

This man did not prepare a victim impact statement but he told gardaí, after making his formal complaint, that he was very glad to finish sixth class, describing a “tremendous sense of relief” that he would never have to face Merrick again.

The second man outlined the same set-up in the class. He recalled that after one incident of being abused, he (the child) used a ruler or a pen sharply on Merrick’s “roaming hand”. Afterwards Merrick grabbed his wrist so tightly that he left a noticeable mark on it.

That evening the child’s mother saw the mark and while he was able to tell her that Merrick caused the injury, he could not tell her about the sexual touching.

His mother later reported the injury to the Department of Education but nothing came of it. She didn’t pursue it as she knew the boy was leaving the school and wouldn’t see Merrick again.

Gda Doyle agreed with Rahn that all of Merrick’s previous convictions relate to the same time period as the two men in the current case.

He accepted that after Merrick left the order to get married, he appeared to have a “led a good life”.

Rahn said his client was in his early 30s at the time of the offences and having entered the order as a young teenager, he did not have a normal sexual development like other young men at the time.

He said he has since gone on to have a happy marriage and is the father of two adult children and has a number of grandchildren.

He said while his family “in no way condone” his behaviour, they were in court to support him and testimonials described Merrick as a loving husband, father and grandfather.

Rahn said Merrick “very much turned his life around” having left the order but the past caught up with him in 1996 when the first disclosures were made to gardaí.        

He had been teaching up until that point but had to leave the profession. He worked then as a tour guide until his ultimate retirement.

Counsel said Merrick had prepared a letter of remorse acknowledging the deep hurt and suffering he has caused and offering his sincere apologies. He said in the letter that he hopes the guilty pleas can help the men in some way.

 

Mr Rahn asked the court to accept that this was “a genuine sentiment of remorse” and Merrick is aware of “the distress his actions have caused”.

 

Counsel said Merrick has struggled with his mental health in recent times and has been referred to St Patrick’s Hospital for treatment.

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