Dearbhail McDonald: There are no words to describe the pain the little girls endured
Published 04/03/2014 | 02:30
In an extraordinary act of dignity, sitting yards away from the man who defiled his child, the father said he was not seeking revenge, only justice
THIS is the hardest piece I have had to write in my professional career, certainly the saddest and without doubt the most horrific. I'm struggling to find words.
Struggling because there simply are no words to describe the unspeakable trauma visited upon two young girls, babies really, subjected to a terrifying rape and kidnap ordeal at the hands of a man described by their parents as sadistic and animalistic.
Years covering the criminal courts, observing what William Golding described as the innate savagery of man, thicken your skin.
It's not that you become immune to the horrendous details that unfold in the seemingly endless murder, manslaughter and rape trials you cover.
Far from it.
But you have to maintain a professional detachment, report the facts, place them on the public record – and silently hope that the nightmares you report on by day don't haunt you at night, as they sometimes do.
Yesterday, as prosecutors outlined the horrendous details of the assaults on the six- and nine-year-old girls, the professional detachment betrayed almost everyone in court six of the Criminal Courts of Justice.
As the sobs of the parents reverberated around the state-of-the-art courtroom, a cacophony of mourning sounds – gasps, shocked sighs and weeping, including my own – mingled with theirs.
Prison officers sat slumped with their heads in their hands; lawyers and gardai struggled to maintain their composure, others just rocked back and forwards as if to comfort themselves from the horrors.
Several journalists, described by sentencing judge Mr Justice Paul Carney as "hard-boiled", wept as the evidence of the rapes was solemnly read out by Senior Counsel Patrick McGrath, leading the prosecution.
We cried as the mother of the nine-year-old girl said in a victim-impact statement that her daughter was traumatised beyond belief.
Tormented by unrelenting images, she said she could picture her little face and almost hear her heart beating, her pain and her little body being defiled by him.
"Inside, I am slowly dying," she said as the statement was read out, clinging to her husband, who was close to collapse. For his part, the father of the nine-year-old paid tribute to the dignity and bravery of his daughter, saying that it took his breath away. In an extraordinary act of dignity, sitting yards away from the man who defiled his child, the father said he was not seeking revenge, only justice.
The father of the six-year-old took to the witness box to honour his daughter.
He said he wanted to be able to answer his daughter and say "I chose to do this for you", reading a heartbreaking poem he wrote for her in the aftermath of the violation.
He told Judge Carney that the man had engaged in acts of depravity not fit for a society where a six-year-old exists.
Few judges are as exposed to the sheer depths of depravity humanity can sink to as Judge Carney.
As listing judge of the Central Criminal Court, he has presided over more rape and murder trials than any other judge.
From time to time, he has had quite public spats with the Court of Criminal Appeal over certain rulings and sentences, some of which have been reduced by the three-judge court.
But his decision to issue two life sentences was perfectly pitched and one that is unlikely to be overturned.
Judge Carney searched for redemption, as he is legally required to do, to consider mitigating factors in favour of the rapist. He found few.
Those that might ordinarily lead to a reduced sentence including co-operation with gardai and a signed plea, which obviated the need for a trial and the prospect of those babies testifying against the "bad man", could not unseat the life terms Judge Carney imposed.
We believe there is a strong public interest in naming this abuser who has, unusually, been given a mandatory life sentence for rape and deserves no protection from his crimes. One day he will be released. And, traumatic as that will be for his victims, the public interest may require that he be identified at that time.
But we have chosen not to do so now, only because the families of his victims asked that he not be identified and we do not wish to add in any way to their suffering.
The vast majority of child rape victims are assaulted not by strangers, but by their fathers, uncles or a trusted adult.
Their family units are destroyed.
The one heartening aspect of this case is that these girls are so loved and protected by their parents, as their testimony proved.