A man who sexually abused his 12-year-old stepdaughter and groomed her into believing they were in a relationship has been jailed for seven years.
The abuse came to light when the man was shot in the legs by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland who had become aware of what he was doing, the Central Criminal Court heard today.
The 46-year-old man, who can't be named to protect the identity of the girl, pleaded guilty to 25 counts of sexual assault, eight counts of oral rape and one count of rape using an object between May 2017 and December 2018 at locations in Ulster and Northern Ireland.
The child was aged between 12 and 13 at the time.
A local garda detective told Maurice Coffey SC, prosecuting, that the man groomed the girl into believing she was in a relationship with him. “She viewed him as both a father figure and a boyfriend or partner,” he said.
The court heard that the abuse started when the man was still in a relationship with the girl's mother. It continued after that relationship ended and the girl visited the man at weekends. The girl's mother believed the man was a “fantastic” father figure to her.
The court heard evidence of text messages sent between the man and the girl, including one in which he told her: “If you want to take it serious (sic), take it serious (sic). No more being shy about nudity.”
The detective said that a paramilitary organisation became aware that the man had naked images of the girl on his phone. He was shot in the legs as a result and the girl's mother was made aware of the abuse.
Admission to girl's mother
The man made admissions to the girl's mother from his hospital bed. When questioned by gardaí, the man said he had watched the girl grow from a child to a “beautiful young woman”. He told gardaí that he was in a sexual relationship with the girl, that he loved her and she loved him.
“He didn't see the sexual relationship as being wrong,” the detective said.
The man, who is originally from Dublin, has one previous conviction for criminal damage. He has been in custody since February 2020.
Sentencing him today, Mr Justice Alexander Owens said the man abused his position of trust to groom and sexually abuse the girl. It involved “a high degree of manipulation and control of the victim”, he said.
“She was subjected to a variety of adult sexualised behaviour,” the judge said. “It will likely stay with her for life.”
He imposed a sentence of eight years and suspended the final year on a number of conditions. He also ordered him to undergo three years of post-release supervision.
The judge took into account the shooting incident, which he said must have been traumatic for the man. He said the court could not be seen to condone the “infliction of life-threatening injuries as retribution for offending”.
In a victim impact report read out by the detective garda, the girl said that when the abuse came to light, she was confused and angry with herself for not telling anyone about it. She outlined how she has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety as a result.
She had to leave school for a while because she was scared and couldn't cope. She said she now realises that the abuse was not her fault.
The girl, who is now aged 16, said she learned in counselling that body cells replace themselves every seven years. “I will soon have a body you never touched,” she said.
She paid tribute to her family, including her “amazing” mother. “She has walked with me every step of the way.”
“I have learned that I am not a victim, but I am a survivor,” the girl said.
Roisin Lacey SC, defending, handed up a psychological report and probation report to the court, outlining his background. She said he had been a victim of a serious sexual assault when he was younger, which she said “derailed” him.
He has a number of adult children from an earlier marriage and is a grandfather.
The man took the stand to read out a letter of apology to the girl, in which he said he was “saddened” to hear of her suffering. He said he took full responsibility for his actions and now realised he had abused his position of trust.
“I only hope my going to jail will give (her) some justice and closure,” he said.