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Extract: I watched my father walk free from court after confessing to raping me

A sentence delivered by a judge frustrated by the inconsistent application of sentencing guidelines in Ireland saw Fiona Doyle’s abuser initially walk free from court – even after he admitted to sexually abusing her throughout her childhood.

Fiona Doyle

Dublin woman Fiona Doyle suffered through her childhood and teenage years at the hands of her own father, Patrick O’Brien, who repeatedly sexually abused her. Her mother, who knew what was happening, did nothing to help her.

After many years of inner struggle, Fiona spoke out about the abuse and pursued her father through the courts. Last year, after a long and harrowing trial, O’Brien was found guilty of multiple counts of rape and sexual assault against his daughter.

However, in a verdict that shocked Ireland, the  judge suspended nine years of O’Brien’s 12-year sentence and initially released him on bail .

In this extract from her book, Too Many Tears, published by Penguin, Fiona writes about the moment she watched her abuser walk free from court.

JUDGE CARNEY SAID: ‘If I impose a serious custodial sentence and suspend it, it will go out in soundbites, as these things do, that in one of the most serious cases of serial rape of a daughter, the man walked. That is all the community will be told.’

‘On the other side if I impose a heavy sentence unsuspended I will be branded as a trial judge who substituted one injustice for another. I am trying to strike a balance.’

Mr Justice Carney then spoke about another judgement, the Kennedy case, in which the Court of Criminal Appeal suspended a moderate sentence imposed on the grounds of the health of the defendant. He said he was ‘horrified’ in that judgement to find the DPP, ‘behind my back, saying it’s “a matter of indifference” whether that accused served a prison sentence or not’.

I don’t really understand what point the judge is making. The last part of what he’s said has gone over my head. Still though, I feel that he’s getting close to announcing his decision. I’m conscious of my body stiffening. Anxiety begins to gnaw at me. It feels like everything has slowed down. He is still speaking. I realise, to my horror, that he’s praising my dad.

He’s talking about his remorse, his good character, his early guilty plea. What remorse? My father has never expressed remorse to me. He mentions my father’s history of employment. Then he notes the length of time since the offences. So that makes it alright then? That he hasn’t offended since he abused me? Didn’t he hear my Victim Impact Statement?

“He’s going to get away with it”

I feel my body shake. I’m going to lose control. Oh God. I turn to my husband Jim, bury my head in his shoulder. ‘He’s going to get away with it,’ I whisper to him. ‘This has all been for nothing.’ Judge Carney continues, saying he is sentencing my father to twelve years with nine of those years suspended. My brain is trying to catch up. What? Twelve years? Nine suspended? So three years?

Three years. He then directs my father’s solicitor to apply for bail, pending an appeal. What? What’s he saying? What does he mean? Bail? He’s walking free?

Oh God, he’s not going to walk free, is he?

I started to cry. I could feel my shoulders moving. My whole body was racked by sobs. I tried to stop but it only made it worse. I could feel people’s arms around me. Jim tried to move me, tried to get me to stand up. I raised my head and became aware that the next case was starting. I couldn’t really see through my tears. I was embarrassed to be crying like that in public. Jim took my arm and led me outside.

The DPP’s counsel, Monika Leech, stopped me. She took me through a door, into a room. She explained what had happened. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to go to my kids, to be with them. She had tears in her eyes. So did Garda Phelan. Jim was crying too.

I just wanted to get out, to flee the court.

I was still crying myself. There was a glass panel in the door and I kept looking out, at my family gathered outside. I wasn’t listening to what Monika Leech was saying at all. I said to her, ‘Just let me out to my kids.’ She knew I wasn’t taking in what she was saying to me so she opened the door and I went out to Paddy and Kristel and Laura. Laura was crying too. I looked around. Everyone was crying. I didn’t know which way to turn or who to go to. I hugged my kids, then Laura. Then Richard hugged me. I said to him again that it had all been for nothing.

I was conscious then of my father walking out of the courtroom. We all turned to look at him. He didn’t look at us. He walked away in the opposite direction. I just wanted to get out, to flee the court. I started to walk towards the stairs. I’d been told that Christine and Richard had decided they’d walk out of court with me in a gesture of solidarity. I had already asked Jim and Paddy to leave with me, walking shoulder to shoulder, to give me strength, and that’s what they did.

I’d prepared a statement as I knew the media would be waiting outside, given the attention the case had got in the press the week before. But it was no good now. I didn’t have one for my father walking free from court. It wasn’t supposed to be like that.

We were surrounded by reporters, television and press cameras. I tried to stop crying, I felt so exposed, them taking pictures of me in tears.

I was asked how I was feeling. ‘Devastated,’ I said. ‘Not a day, not a day behind bars.’ I can’t remember what else I said, I was in shock. I had such a feeling of being exposed, I felt like the cameras could see inside me. I just wanted to get out of there. I wanted to stop them looking inside me.

imageToo Many Tears by Fiona Doyle is published by Penguin at €14.99 and out now (also on Kindle).

About the author:

Fiona Doyle

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