Thursday 19 October 2017

How shamed sports writer once damned 'cunning of paedophiles'

Tom Humphries warned of 'sick minds who prey on kids' in sport - and then ended up doing exactly that

ABUSE SHAME: Tom Humphries (54), of Corr Castle, Sutton, Dublin, arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Collins Courts. Photo: Collins Courts
ABUSE SHAME: Tom Humphries (54), of Corr Castle, Sutton, Dublin, arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Collins Courts. Photo: Collins Courts
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The former sports writer, Tom Humphries, triggered his own unmasking when he donated one of his old mobile phones to his daughter. She was collecting them to be recycled by a charity and her dad obliged with the phone he had used to send thousands of sexually explicit text messages to a young girl he had groomed from the age of 14.

Perhaps Tom Humphries thought his secret was safe, because he had removed the sim card. But as his sentencing heard last week, his daughter decided to insert a sim card in it, and by doing so, could read the text messages. Scrolling through messages of a "highly sexualised nature" to the young girl, his daughter discovered her father's criminally sordid secret.

She told her mother that same evening. Humphries no longer lived at the family home. He had been estranged from his wife for some time. The next day, her mother and Humphries's brother-in-law went to his apartment to confront him.

According to evidence outlined in court, Humphries was distraught. He immediately talked about killing himself.

Humphries was admitted to hospital. He followed through on his threat, attempting suicide after he was admitted. He was transferred to St Patrick's psychiatric hospital, where he attempted suicide again.

His wife and her brother went to gardai, handing over Humphries's incriminating phone, along with two others they had found.

That was March 2011. It would later transpire that Humphries had sexually exploited the young girl on March 18, shortly before he was exposed.

Last week, a victim impact statement written by the young woman abused by Humphries, now 54, was read out in court. In a moving gesture, she thanked his family for reporting him to An Garda Siochana and bringing about an end to the abuse.

"Without them reporting this, I do not know where I would be today. I will be forever grateful to them for saving me from the situation. I hope and pray that you can all get past this and somehow manage to live a normal, healthy life," she wrote in her statement.

The man formerly known as one of Ireland's best loved sports journalists sat hunched in Dublin Circuit Criminal court, as details emerged of how he had defiled and sexually exploited a child. It seemed he wished to hurry on his punishment, conveying to the judge that he wanted to go to prison immediately, rather than wait until the end of October when she would hand down his sentence.

Sexual predators rarely come with warning bells. Countless trials have shown how they infiltrate by behaving as normal folk, only friendlier and more trusting.

Humphries was that normal bloke, a sort of everyman but with a stunning talent to showcase his incisive wit. He was born in the UK to Irish parents, who returned to Dublin when he was a child. He was raised in Raheny and was educated by the Christian Brothers in Fairview. In an interview with Hot Press in 2003, he recalled how being a kid with an English accent, he wanted to become more Irish than the Irish, so he took up Gaelic football. He got into sports writing ahead of Italia 1990, when he was unemployed and someone suggested he could fill in for the sports hacks off at the World Cup. That led to jobs at The Sunday Tribune and then The Irish Times.

He swiftly joined the pantheon of stand-out Irish sports writers who are revered by their readers and admired, if not envied, by their colleagues, the likes of David Walsh, Paul Kimmage and Eamon Dunphy. In his Locker Room column in The Irish Times, he had a talent for writing exactly what his legions of readers thought but in a way which was funny, surreal and lyrical.

Humphries attained celebrity himself when Roy Keane gave him an interview slating the Irish management in Saipan ahead of the 2002 World Cup. His scoop got the Irish captain sent home, dividing the nation.

Humphries had often written about the volunteers who gave so much to sport in their communities. In the 1990s, he was giving back to his local club where he was an enthusiastic volunteer.

Humphries was alert to the ways of sexual predators. He wrote about Brothers who "once had nicknames and reputations, leaving courtrooms with anoraks on their heads and cuffs on their wrists", a column that prompted a complaint from the Christian Brothers.

He wrote about the "cunning of paedophiles", how they can "survive undetected for so long" because people around them are so reluctant to believe allegations. How sport, "with its youth and its trips and its opportunity for building relationships between coaches and participants, is a fine feeding ground for those few sick minds who prey on kids".

That column appeared in 1998. Ten years later, this large man in his late 40s, who was married with two daughters, had ventured into the feeding ground of sexual predators.

He was by then on a panel of mentors to various junior camogie teams with different GAA clubs in Dublin. In 2008, he obtained the mobile phone number of a 14-year-old camogie player and sent her a text message saying "don't give up" and "keep trying".

The girl later told gardai she didn't know how he had got her number. She presumed he'd got her it through her GAA club. The message was the first of tens of thousands of texts Humphries would send the girl right up to March 2011, when he was finally found out.

He lured her in with texts about school and sport. But according to evidence outlined in court last week, Humphries deliberately and persistently tried to introduce sex into his relationship with the girl.

In 2009 he sent her images of his penis, which upset her and which she deleted immediately. She instructed him not to send her anything like this again.

He backed off for a while, but the following year re-introduced sex into his texts to the young teenager.

0n a Sunday morning in December 2010, he arranged to meet the girl outside a school, the court heard. He brought her to his apartment in Santry, where he undressed her and they had oral sex. She was 16 and he was 47.

Over the following months, Humphries's texts to the teenager became more persistent and grotesquely sexual.

At New Year, he texted to ask if she was "getting laid". In others he talked about his genitals, such things as "be my whore" and "love to see my gal with meat in her mouth".

According to Garda evidence, he exchanged more than 16,000 texts with the girl, from December to March 2011, when he was caught and the abuse finally stopped.

Garda traced the young woman on Humphries's phone, who was logged in under a pseudonym. She gave a detailed interview to gardai about her encounters with Humphries.

A second young woman also came forward, a member of a different GAA club to the 16-year-old. She too knew Humphries through camogie and made a statement to gardai.

Humphries never returned to work. The Irish Times said in a statement last week that it was advised of allegations against Humphries in March 2011 and he had not written for the newspaper since then. He was suspended in March 2014, when he was formally charged, and dismissed in March of this year, when he pleaded guilty. The disclosures were a source of "shock and distress to his colleagues", it said.

The shock reverberated far beyond The Irish Times, to the pool of his sports writer colleagues and across the national media generally - for such an admired and liked writer to be accused of such gross abuse of power.

Humphries was not named publicly although he was identified by the Sunday World in 2011. He was arrested and questioned at Ballymun Garda Station in north Dublin in 2011. Humphries was released without charge and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Although Humphries was charged in 2014, the case dragged on for a year and a half, a situation which the young woman wrote was "an extremely draining experience" for her and her family.

She also endured a long wait to find out whether Humphries would contest the offences which would mean a trial.

She learned that she would be spared that ordeal only when he pleaded guilty to his crimes against her in March of this year.

The specific charges he admitted to were two counts of defilement - engaging in a sexual act with a child - between December 5, 2010 and February 9, 2011. He admitted four counts of inviting a child to participate in a sexually explicit, obscene or indecent act, between January 2010 and March 2011. It later emerged that a further three charges he faced relating to a second young woman had been dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The development removed the legal obstacle to his being named publicly.

How could one of the country's best-known sports writers, praised for his insight and his wisdom, one who had written eloquently about child abusers and their devastating legacy, have pursued and a groomed a 14-year-old child for sex, so explicitly and so relentlessly?

Social media commenters have dismissed him as a "kiddy fiddler" and a "pervert" on online forums while debating whether it's still OK to admire his writings.

In court, it was suggested his judgement may have been "impaired". Psychiatric documents submitted by his barrister, Hugh Hartnett, to Judge Karen O'Connor made reference to a "neurocognitive deficit" at the time of his offending.

He had separated from his wife. He lived alone. He suffered from depression. He now suffers from serious heart problems and is obese. The end of his "brilliant career" was also lamented, as often happens with people who fall from great heights. He "suffered hugely", his barrister said, particularly due to the media reports which pilloried him.

Humphries has not been entirely abandoned. The submissions to the judge included a letter from the chief sports writer of The Sunday Times David Walsh which described Humphries as a "hugely regarded, hugely respected national figure".

A second unnamed GAA sportsman spoke of his years of voluntary service to the organisation.

Humphries faces a potentially lengthy jail sentence. Defilement carries a maximum sentence of five years while the grooming charges carry a maximum life sentence.

He has indicated that he wants to suffer. He was observed flinching at the evidence of his crimes which was read out in court by Garda Jarleth Burke.

His barrister said he did not want psychiatric treatment. Humphries wanted to "feel the pain" as part of his punishment.

It is his victim's pain that counts. Humphries once wrote how child abusers "wreck" young lives and the young woman he defiled and abused attested to that last week. She did not want to read the letter of apology he offered in remorse and did not want it to be read to the court.

"For years it has ruined my life. I suffer permanent flashbacks and severe panic attacks. I have had to block out my childhood from the age of 14," she wrote in her victim impact statement.

She mentioned feelings of shame, of manipulation and of being physically sick.

"I lost a trust in men, a loss of my childhood due to the ordeal of having to deal with the police, counsellors, solicitors and social workers all through the ages of 14 to 16. I had to deal with sexual encounters at such a young age with a man three times my age, which made me physically, emotionally and mentally ill."

Humphries will be held in custody until October 24 when he will be sentenced at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Sunday Independent

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