A father “at the end of his tether” who bit his two year old son on the cheek to show him how much it hurt has been given a suspended sentence.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard staff at the boy's playgroup reported their concerns about this and another incidents to social services who had been working with the family since that time. Staff had previously noted that the boy had “certain difficulties” and was aggressive and rough.
The family have had extensive contact with social workers and received significant therapeutic services for the boy who has been diagnosed with autism.
The 39-year-old man, who was the main carer for the child and who cannot be identified to protect his son's identity, has undergone anger management therapy and psychological intervention.
Defence counsel for the man said the boy remained in the care of his parents and that social services had concluded that the child was in a loving and supportive family environment.
The accused man, who has no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to one count of wilful assault of the child in June 2013 and two counts of assault in December 2014.
Judge Martin Nolan said playschool staff were to be praised for how they dealt with the matter and said they had handled it in an “exemplary way” that was fair to everyone.
He said it seemed the man was “at the end of his tether” and did not know what to do with his child.
“Most parents feel like that at certain times” said Judge Nolan, but noted it was not permissible to treat the child as the accused had. He imposed a one year sentence which he suspended in full on the basis the accused be of good behaviour.
A local garda told the court that the boy's playgroup first reported concerns about the boy when he was two years old and they noted bruise marks on his neck. The child later attended with a bite mark to his cheek. The accused admitted biting the child to show him how sore it was.
In a later incident at playschool the accused man struck his son several times and swung him by his arm after being asked to collect him following a biting incident.
Defence counsel, Tom Neville BL, said his client had been fully co-operative with investigation and expressed remorse. He handed in a psychological report which he said outlined his clients background in terms of how he had been raised and differing approaches to discipline.
A local garda told Gerardine Small BL, prosecuting, that in early June 2013 the two year old child came to playgroup wearing a scarf and hat. When staff removed them they noticed bruising which looked like fingermarks on his neck. Photographs were taken and emailed to social services.
The accused man told staff that the child had said “the F word” and he went to hit him but missed and hit his neck.
Later in June the mother of the child told staff as she dropped off her son that he had fallen off a toy tractor or car. Staff noticed bruising on his face, a circular mark to the back of his neck and what looked like a bite mark on his face.
Social services were alerted and a medical exam confirmed it was a non-accidental bite mark.
The accused said the bruising was from running into a pool table and falling off his trike. He said he would sometimes threaten the boy with his belt but did not always hit him. He said this was usually in relation to the boy's refusal to eat and his behaviour.
The accused later told gardai he had bitten the child because the child had bitten him and he wanted to show him how sore it was.
In December 2014, when the child was four-years-old, the accused was notified by playschool staff of a biting incident. The accused attended to collect him and when the child ran over to him he struck him twice. He grabbed his son by the arm and swung him. The child fell against a wall.
Staff asked the father to sign an incident report but he refused and began shouting at a staff member.
The court heard social services were working with the family and the mother and the accused agreed not to discipline the child physically. The accused spoke to garda voluntarily.
The garda agreed with Mr Neville that it had been over two years since the last incident without any recurrence and social workers have been liaising with the parents and retraining them.
He agreed with Mr Neville said that, not withstanding the offending incidents, social services had concluded that the child was in a loving and supportive family environment.