Friday 9 December 2016

'I was left a lion without a roar' - Church volunteer jailed for abusing 14 boys

Sonya McLean and Fiona Ferguson

Published 10/11/2016 | 14:41

Patrick O'Brien (76) Photo: Collins Courts.
Patrick O'Brien (76) Photo: Collins Courts.

A former lay worker with the Church of Ireland who raped and molested 14 young boys over the course of four decades has been jailed for 13 years.

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Patrick O’Brien (76) pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 48 sample counts of indecent assault, and three counts of sexual assault of the boys between 1974 and 2013 at numerous locations throughout the state including Kildare, Westmeath, on a boat in Loughrea in Co Galway and at St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin where he worked as a volunteer.

He has one previous convictions for a sex assault of another boy in 1989 for which he got a one year suspended sentence.

O’Brien, with an address at Knocklyon Road, Templeogue, Dublin, was sent forward for trial from Dublin District Court. Judge Cormac Dunne previously ruled that the media could identify the accused following an application by RTÉ at the District Court.

All of the victims wish to preserve their anonymity. Four victims were present in court for the sentence hearing. A number of victim impact reports were prepared but not all the men wanted their statement to be read out.

It took over 30 minutes to read out the charges in a sentence hearing that took place over two days to allow for all 14 statements of complaint to be read into the record.

Judge Melanie Greally said that O'Brien's action had a severely damaging effect on his victims. She noted that the accused had no support in court and said that for all intents and purposes he was alone in the world.

One man described in his victim impact report how his biggest fear over the years was that he might end up abusing his own daughter. He said he had read numerous cases about abused children becoming abusers themselves and it played on his mind. “It frightened the crap out of me,” he said.

A second man outlined in his victim impact report that he had never married and said that this was down to the abuse he suffered. He said he felt now at 50 years old that the chance to have a wife and family had “passed me by”.

Another victim said he never wanted to have children because he didn't want to be responsible for them after the abuse he suffered as a young boy.

One of O'Brien's youngest victims, who was raped as a nine year old boy, described himself in his victim impact report as “a lion without a roar”. He said he developed a shield and a shell to bury this “violent secret” inside.

He said O'Brien made him feel like the abuse “was almost a rite of passage” but that he now understood he was grooming him.

Detective Garda Anthony Maloney told Anne Rowland BL, prosecuting, that various victims told gardaí that they had made efforts to avoid O'Brien as children.

One victim cycled to his local garda station to report O'Brien a day after the man tried to rape him.

When he arrived at the station he got “cold feet” and felt intimidated. He was worried about the consequences for him if he reported it and decided to put the abuse to the back of his mind.

O'Brien continued to abuse the boy in the months afterwards until the boy threatened to report or kill him if he touched him again.

The victims were told by their abuser that it was “their little secret” with some of the boys feeling they were being threatened. Others described him as being like an uncle to them and many said he was very much a trusted family friend.

The men also told gardaí that O'Brien gave them sweets, toys, cash and watches. One boy was given a bike.

Det Gda Maloney said all the men were badly affected by the abuse. Two men who were raped by O'Brien told gardaí they were very worried when they learned about AIDS on the news as children and were terrified they were going to die.

Many victims reported that their school work began to suffer and they had trouble with relationships. Many began drinking from an early age.

The court heard that O'Brien was first arrested in March 2014. A search was carried out of his home during which photographs of some of the victims, in normal social situations, were discovered.

In April 2014 O'Brien made a voluntary statement in which he agreed with the statements of his victims.

He said he had been abused himself and told gardaí “I would like to say how sorry I am for causing these lads such distress and apologise to them all absolutely”.

Sean Guerin SC, defending, told Judge Melanie Greally that his client had written a letter in which he said he wanted to apologise “unreservedly” for the breach of trust and the suffering the victims and their families endured. He acknowledged his “deep heartfelt regret and shame”.

Counsel said O'Brien has completed 312 hours of group psychotherapy treatment since April 2014 which he said was a practical indication of remorse and efforts at rehabilitation even at this stage of his life.

Mr Guerin asked the judge to take into account the negative publicity surrounding O'Brien, which he said was intense at times and led to stigma and isolation. He said for a man who worked all his life he had no one in court to support him.

Counsel submitted that his client's plea of guilty and admissions were of substantial value in the case, having regard to the victims, many of whom he said indicated “a fear of being disbelieved”.

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