Friday 23 March 2018

Child-snatcher academic gets suspended term for abduction

Thomas Pfeiffer
Thomas Pfeiffer

Ciaran Murphy

A MAN who abducted and falsely imprisoned an 11-year-old boy over two nights in 2009 walked free from court after receiving a three-year suspended sentence.

Dr Thomas Pfeiffer (51), a doctor of engineering who has worked in research at the Waterford Institute of Technology, was found guilty on three counts in December following a four-day trial.

However, after spending more than seven weeks in jail, he was yesterday released on bail. The charges relate to a German boy, in Ireland to improve his English, who was zipped into a sleeping bag at Pfeiffer's home for two nights.

The boy was made to exercise until exhausted over that weekend, and was weighed and measured. He then needed to be helped out of the bag on those mornings. Judge Pauline Codd said: "It is very clear that this is a very unusual and bizarre case.

"His trust in people is gone," she added. In the victim impact report yesterday, the boy's mother said that her son "was definitely very open-minded and curious" about the world, but "this has changed".

Prosecutor Noel Whelan BL told the court yesterday how Pfeiffer, a German national with an address at Meadowview, Coolfin in Portlaw, Co Waterford, picked up the 11-year-old boy at Dublin Airport on January 31, 2009 and drove him to his home in Co Waterford.

The boy had arrived in Ireland as part of a programme to improve his English.

Pfeiffer had arranged for the boy to stay with a legitimate family in Tramore, and attend Fenor National School.

Detective Garda Jennifer Ryan told Mr Whelan how the boy and his family originally understood he would be taken directly to Tramore, but this did not happen.

Pfeiffer, who has a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering and a doctorate in Computer Science, had invented a woman called Barbara O'Neill – with emails to the boy's mother purporting to be from her.


The court heard how Pfeiffer also "deceptively" invented a "Cahill family" at a place called "Riversbend" in Portnaboe, Carrick-on-Suir that also does not exist.

Det Gda Ryan said that "it was only by chance" that the boy's family discovered he would not be staying with the "host" family upon arrival.

Mr Whelan said that "nothing untoward" had happened during his time at Portlaw,

However, the boy was placed in a sleeping bag from which he could not get out, until assisted in the mornings, and had no contact with his mother over that weekend.

Det Gda Ryan described the set-up as "a one-man operation" and that when questioned by gardai, on foot of a complaint by the boy's mother and aunt, he "didn't take any responsibility".

"He denied any wrongdoing," said Det Ryan.

Pfeiffer was cleared on one count of false imprisonment in December but was found guilty on two counts of false imprisonment and one count of child abduction.

Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout has strongly criticised the decision to hand down a suspended sentence to Pfeiffer. "I am stunned and would hope that the family appeals the decision," she said.

Irish Independent

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