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Sentenced

Retired member of Defence Forces jailed for 10 years for sexually abusing his daughter

Gerard Lawless (61) pleaded guilty to 11 counts

A RETIRED MEMBER of the Irish Defence Forces has been jailed for 10 years for sexually abusing his young daughter almost two decades ago.

Gerard Lawless (61) pleaded guilty to four counts of oral rape and seven counts of sexual assault on dates between 1991 and 1998 at the family’s then-home in Dublin.

Danielle Lawless waived her right to anonymity to allow her father, of Elmdale Crescent, Ballyfermot, Dublin 10, to be named.

In a powerful victim impact statement, Ms Lawless said her father was not just the perpetrator of these “heinous acts” , but was someone who should have protected and looked after her.

She said he “exploited my innocence and trust in the most despicable manner”.

Ms Lawless said her father “manipulated my understanding of love and affection” and she outlined how this has affected her ability to trust others and her own decisions.

She said she had experienced feelings of shame, guilt and worthlessness, then spoke of her “unwavering determination” to protect her own children from the “horrors I endured”.

The Central Criminal Court heard that the first incident of sexual assault took place when Ms Lawless was around five and she had gone to her parents’ room for a play and a cuddle.

The offending was not continuous during the period. The court was told that most of the counts of sexual assault and oral rape are sample charges and refer primarily to a 17-month period between October 1995 and April 1997 when the victim was around ten years old.

The final two counts of sexual assault occurred on unknown dates between November 1997 and August 1998, when Ms Lawless was then about 12 years old.

Lawless had been due to stand trial last December, but a plea was accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

He joined the Defence Forces in 1980 and served overseas, including in Lebanon. He retired in 2013 on medical grounds and is in ill health, the court heard. He has no previous convictions and has been in custody since he entered his plea last December.

After hearing facts yesterday, Justice Paul McDermott adjourned the case overnight to consider the sentence.

Today, he handed Lawless a global prison sentence of 10 years, directing him to undergo three years of post-release supervision and to have no contact either directly or indirectly with the victim.

Justice McDermott said the sexual abuse continued and escalated during the victim’s childhood and the fact that there was an “interruption” of the abuse didn’t really “detract from its awful nature or that it dominated her childhood”.

He noted the serious and long lasting effects of the abuse as outlined in the victim impact statement and said Ms Lawless was “in fact groomed from a very young age, she was in fact inveigled in to his world of sick games, and ended up with confused feelings throughout her childhood”.

Justice McDermott said the blame and shame “does not lie at her door”.

“It lies at Lawless’s door, solely and completely and that’s where it remains.”

He said it was aggravating that the “paternal trust” had been breached and the abuse took place in the family home.

Justice McDermott said he had considered the mitigating features including Lawless’s service in the Defence Forces, his ill health and that prison will be a more difficult experience for him as a result.

He said the court was concerned that the probation report states that Lawless retains a “very warped view” of what happened and while regret is expressed, “there is no understanding of the serious harm caused” to the victim.

Justice McDermott said a period of post-release supervision is appropriate as Lawless “hasn’t really addressed his offending” and that he should be assessed for any relevant therapeutic programmes.

An investigating garda told Gerard Clarke SC, prosecuting, that Lawless is the adopted father of the victim, having married her mother when she was very young.

She outlined that the abuse included inappropriate touching, masturbation and oral sex. All of the abuse, except the first incident, occurred while the victim’s mother was at work.

The abuse ended when the victim was 12. Her father told her that what they were doing was wrong and it should remain a secret.

Ms Lawless told her mother about the abuse in 2018 before making a complaint to gardai. Her mother and Lawless had separated in 2013, the court heard.

Lawless was interviewed on a voluntary basis by gardai in 2019 and made some admissions. However, he told gardai that the abuse took place over a period of several days when the victim was aged 10.

The investigating garda with Catherine Noctor SC, defending, that there was only one conversation in which Lawless told his victim to keep the abuse secret and this occurred after the offending had ended.

She accepted that Lawless made partial admissions during interview, but noted that he didn’t admit to the actual timeframe of the offending and gardai felt he engaged in a “certain amount of minimising”.

It was further agreed that Lawless said he couldn’t remember some details during interview, but accepted he had an inappropriate relationship with the victim and apologised.

The witness also agreed that while Lawless’s plea of guilty was not early, it was indicated before the trial started and meant the victim didn’t have to give evidence.

The court heard Lawless told a probation officer that “there was no malice” in his actions towards the victim and that he “never forced” her to engage in sexual activity. He said “I loved her, I know it was wrong” continuing that “I loved her, she gave the love back to me”.

He added: “I loved her as my daughter, I don’t mean in a sexual way.”

His lawyer said her instructions were that Lawless “made a mistake” when he told the probation officer that the abuse only took place over a short period. She was instructed that Lawless meant that he “loved the victim as a daughter” when he referred to love in this conversation.

She said her client fully accepts his guilt for this offending and has been assessed as being at low to moderate risk of re-offending.

She told the court that her client has numerous health issues and is now a wheelchair user.

A number of reports and testimonials were handed to the court. Lawless retains the support of some of his siblings. His lawyer asked the court to take into account her client’s history of early childhood adversity, his guilty plea and expressions of remorse.

Lawless didn’t work after retiring from the Defence Forces due to health issues, but did carry out voluntary work, including for St Patrick’s Athletic, the court heard.

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