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Munster trial: Parents jailed for 9 and 15 years for 'most awful' sexual abuse and neglect of their children

During the sentencing, the judge said the parents had engaged in “the most profound breach of trust a human being can commit against their children”.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

A MUNSTER FATHER and mother who engaged in the “most awful” sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and wilful neglect of their children have been jailed for 15 years and nine years respectively.

Sentencing the parents and three other family members in the Central Criminal Court today, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the parents had engaged in “the most profound breach of trust a human being can commit against their children”.

He said the children were left isolated and under the total control of their adult relatives, who left them with no one to turn to and who engaged in the most “appalling” and “prolonged” sexual abuse of the three eldest children.

The judge jailed the 57-year-old father for 15 years after he was found guilty of all 31 offences against him. These included raping his three older children, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, wilful neglect and child cruelty.

The 34-year-old mother was jailed for nine years. She was found guilty of all 25 offences against her, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation and wilful neglect of her children.

The children’s 49-year-old uncle – the husband of their maternal aunt – was jailed for 15 years. He was found guilty of all 10 counts against him including rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of the three eldest children.

His wife, the children’s 35-year-old maternal aunt, was jailed for three years for her part in the abuse, which involved three counts of sexually assaulting two of the children.

The children’s maternal uncle (27) was jailed for 15 years. He was found guilty of eight of the nine charges against him in relation to two of the children, including rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation.

The judge said there was no doubt that the effect of the abuse on the children has been enormous.

“The suffering they have endured has been enormous. The difficulties and stresses that they have been under have been enormous,” the judge said.

“I have little doubt there are difficulties they will face in the future resulting out of the consequences of what was done to them and what was not done for them and that this will have an effect on each of their lives.”

The five family members were found guilty by a jury of all but one of the 78 counts against them following a 10-week trial held at Croke Park last summer. They were all found guilty of sexually abusing the three eldest children on dates between August 2014 and April 2016, while the parents were found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of the children, who were aged between one and nine during this period.

The father was also found guilty of mistreating three of the children by medicating them. The court heard that one of the children had a medical condition and the father admitted to a social worker that he administered his medication to some of the other children to try and “knock them out” at night.

The parents, uncles and aunt have been in custody since last August when the verdicts were handed down. They all continue to maintain their innocence, their sentence hearing was told last week.

None of the five family members reacted when the sentences were handed down.

Mr Justice McDermott said it was clear from the parents’ interviews with gardaí that they knew what they were doing was wrong. The court has heard evidence that both parents have intellectual deficits and limitations, which the defence argued lowered their moral culpability.

But the judge said evidence of the parents’ intellectual deficits could not be divorced from the “unsettling evidence” that while the parents were engaged in “the most awful sexual abuse of their children and permitting others to do so”, they were hiding these actions from social workers.

“They deceived social workers and others about the sexual abuse that was occurring,” the judge said.

He noted neither parent has shown any indication of regret or remorse. Because they continue to deny their offending, there is no explanation as to “why this sexually deviant behaviour occurred”.

The judge said the parents failed in their duty to care for, nurture and protect their children, and instead caused them “pain and suffering to a very high degree”. The children were “very cruelly and badly treated and it was a continuous form of abuse and neglect”.

Mr Justice McDermott paid tribute to the foster parents who he said performed “a peculiar task in caring for the children who were so damaged and so lacking in care and so lacking in understanding of the basic level of behaviour in how to look after themselves.”

“They have provided an enormous level of care for these children who came into their lives in a manner they had not anticipated, requiring a level of care they couldn’t have anticipated,” he said.

He also praised the gardaí and the lead inspector for their professionalism in dealing with the case.

Mr Justice McDermott backdated the sentences to when the five went into custody last August. He set a three-year post-release supervision period and he ordered that they have no contact, either directly or indirectly, with the children.

The trial heard the family was on Tusla’s radar as far back as 2011, but intervention ramped up in 2014. The children were eventually removed from the family home and placed in various foster homes in 2016 on the grounds of severe neglect.

A sixth child was born after the children were taken into care in what was described as a “concealed pregnancy”. The mother received no medical care until the end of her pregnancy and the father told gardaí he didn’t know she was pregnant. This baby was also removed from the family home.

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Extensive reporting restrictions are in place to protect the welfare and identities of the children.

The court heard that after they were placed in care, the eldest three children started to make disclosures in relation to sexual abuse at the hands of their parents and other relatives, leading to their arrests in 2018.

The trial heard harrowing evidence from more than 30 witnesses including the children themselves, their foster parents, teachers, social and family support workers, medical professionals and gardaí.

The court heard that the children were small and thin for their age, and suffered a range of issues while in the care of their parents including chronic tooth decay, dietary problems and low weight, recurring head lice and scabies, third-degree sunburn and marks and scarring to their bodies. They had a wide range of behavioural issues including hyper-vigilance, over-compliance and anxiety.

In victim impact statements read out in court by the inspector in the case, the oldest boy, now a teenager, wrote that he thought his old family should go to jail for a long time. “They should not be near children again,” he said.

“I never knew until I came to my new family what a normal life is like,” he wrote. “I’m clean and I’m happy and I’m never hungry and not afraid to go to sleep.”

The children’s three sets of foster parents wrote lengthy statements in which they outlined the numerous challenges they have encountered in trying to help the children recover from their traumatic early childhood. The three eldest children in particular were happy and relieved they had been believed when the guilty verdicts came in, their foster parents said.

They described how the children arrived with only the clothes on their backs, filthy dirty and covered in faeces with various scars and bruises and no toileting skills.

The eldest boy’s foster mother said he had suffered a “horrendous childhood” at the hands of those who should have been loving and caring for him. She said he is now a “beautiful, handsome boy” who they are proud to have in their family.

The foster mother of the girl and second eldest boy listed a long line of health professionals and therapists they have seen and continue to see regularly. She described how they had trouble sleeping for the first two years and suffered from terrible recurring nightmares in which their parents were coming to hurt them.

The foster mother of the two youngest boys outlined the many supports they have needed for their behavioural and medical issues. She described how they were wary and vigilant, despite their young age when they came into her care. 

Defence counsel for both parents said their clients suffered from a mild intellectual disability and were on the borderline range of intellectual functioning. Although he maintains his innocence, the father has gained “enormous satisfaction” from learning that his children are now happy, defence counsel said.

The court heard that the mother and her sister will struggle in prison, as there is no dedicated sexual offender unit in the women’s prison. The mother is confined to her room for her own safety for most of the day, her defence counsel said.

About the author:

Isabel Hayes

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