Louth man who tried to buy silence of partner's daughter (12) after sexually assaulting her is jailed

A Co Louth man who tried to buy the silence of his partner’s 12-year-old daughter after sexually assaulting her has been jailed by the Court of Appeal today, which found that his original fully suspended sentence was too lenient.

The man (39), who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of his victim, was jailed for 18 months today for the assault, which had a “profound” effect on the girl.

The Court of Appeal heard that overnight between October 5 and October 6, 2019, the girl had been asleep on a couch at the house, which was hosting both a slumber party for children and a games night for adult guests at a family gathering.

The man twice woke the girl and touched her vagina and chest underneath her pyjamas. He then tried to buy her silence, which she refused to partake in.

The man pleaded guilty to sexual assault and was sentenced to four years in jail which was suspended in full by Judge Patrick Quinn at Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court in February of last year.

Kevin Segrave BL, for the State, said the Director of Public Prosecutions believed a non-custodial sanction was unduly lenient and had appealed the sentence.

Mr Segrave said the man was intoxicated on the night and assaulted the girl when the children had gone to sleep in the sitting room after enjoying a movie night.

After the assault the man tried to buy the girl’s silence with €20 which she threw back at him on to the kitchen table. He then began offering more and more “bribery” money until she eventually refused an offer of €600.

Counsel said that he had followed the girl into a bathroom while she was urinating to continue to try to “buy her off” before she eventually went back to the sitting room and put a pet dog on her lap for protection.

Mr Segrave said the defendant’s attempt to buy the girl’s silence showed he knew what he had done was wrong and that the respondent did not show immediate remorse in the aftermath of the assault.

Mr Segrave said the man was the then-partner of the girl’s mother who had since kicked him out of their house.

Counsel said the man had significant responsibility for the safety of the children and was acting ‘in loco parentis’ on the night.

Mr Segrave said the man had a “very high degree of trust” bestowed on him by the other parents before he committed a “grievous” breach of it.

Counsel said the trial judge had shown “compassion” for the family but that in not imposing a custodial sentence he had “gone too far”.

Mr Segrave said “significant” harm had been done to the girl and that she had written a “very poignant” victim impact statement.

Ronan Munro SC, for the man, said such offending would often attract a custodial sentence and that the protracted offers of money were “ugly”.

Mr Munro said that while the sentence could be viewed as “lenient or extremely lenient”, it still fell within the discretion of the judge and within the law to impose such a sentence.

Mr Munro said his client had been challenged by an older cousin of the complainant the day after the party and that he had “hung his head in shame the next morning”. The man went to a Garda station where he said he believed he had “done something bad” but could not fully remember due to his intoxication.

Counsel said that when the man was counting out money for the girl the conversation woke his own son who asked what was happening before the man began “talking rubbish and conked out on the floor”.

Court of Appeal judge Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said the man exercised his right to silence when being interviewed by gardaí and that it could not be said he co-operated fully with gardaí.

Mr Munro said his client “did not say he didn’t do it” and had not accused the child of making the matter up, nor had he tried to undermine her claim.

Counsel said his client notified gardaí that he would be pleading guilty in advance of any hearing and that he was assessed as having a “low risk” of reoffending as long as he stayed away from drink and drugs.

Mr Munro said his client had no previous convictions at the time, was a family man who made a positive contribution to society, had shown remorse, had a good work history but had poor insight into his mental health. Counsel said the respondent was drink and drug free and attending therapy.

Since the incident, said counsel, the man had lost his social circle and had moved back in with his parents due to an act “that will define him for the rest of his life”.

In quashing the original sentence and jailing the man for 18 months, Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding at the three-judge court, said the respondent had done “profound harm” to the girl.

“Having considered all the circumstances, we have a clear view and are satisfied the sentence was unduly lenient,” said Mr Justice Edwards, who added that the trial judge had “made an error in principle” in not jailing the man.

Mr Justice Edwards said the imposition of the non-custodial sentence had been a “substantial departure from the norm”.

Mr Justice Edwards said there had been no objection to the headline sentence of four years but that the man’s substantial mitigation resulted in a discount of 50% off the headline.

The judge then further suspended six months of the remaining two years and gave the man two weeks to get his affairs in order before he has to hand himself in to gardaí.

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