Sunday 25 March 2018

Dad 'hit girl (10) in the face when she couldn't stop infant crying', court told

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court

Fiona Ferguson

A father who “sacrificed the welfare of his children for alcohol” has been given a four year sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for the neglect and ill treatment of six children.

The eldest victim described how she was ten when she was left to care for her six week old sister. She said the baby slept beside her in a single bed and when she was unable to stop the infant crying during the night the accused hit her in the face.

The now 19-year-old woman also described coming home from school to find the baby alone strapped into a car seat when her parents had gone drinking. She also cared for her other siblings and forged her mother’s signature in shops in order to feed them.

The foster parents of some of the children, aged between two and 12 years old at the time they went into care, said they were unable to use cutlery, were not toilet trained or able to shower or use a toothbrush.

The 54 year old man pleaded guilty to eight counts of child cruelty against six children on dates between 2001 and 2010. He is the father of the five younger children.

His former partner and mother of all of the children has already received a four year suspended sentence for the same charges.

“In effect the children were rearing themselves without any parental guidance” noted Judge Mary Ellen Ring.

She placed the offences at the upper end of the mid range, taking into account the period of the offending and number of children effected. The maximum sentence is seven years.

Judge Ring imposed a four year sentence with the final year suspended.

Patrick McGrath SC, defending, said the accused man had written a note in which he said he would like to apologise for the suffering and pain he had caused his children. The man said if he could turn the clock back he would change things and regrets what happened.

Mr McGrath said the accused man began drinking as an 11-year-old and it has had a significant effect on his life. He said the accused and his ex partner had chosen alcohol over the care of their children.

He said the accused man is now in a new relationship and is sober since last year.

He submitted the accused man had to live with the shame and guilt of what he had done and has made serious attempts to change his life.            

Garda Roisin Ni Chathain told Karen O’Connor BL, prosecuting, that the family had come to HSE attention in 1999 due to concerns about the couples drinking and how the children were being cared for.

Five of the children went into foster care in 2007 and another child born subsequently was also taken into care.

The eldest child made a statement to gardai in 2011 and described how the couple were frequently gone drinking and neighbours would bring the children food. She said the laundry was never done, they had no clean clothes and she had gone to school without underwear.

She said on one occasion when the accused was angry he had put her head into the toilet and flushed it. She was upset and frightened. She saw the couple laugh at her as she was in tears.

The girl said when she was nine the couple moved to a new address and things got worse. She said the fridge in the kitchen was empty and a freezer out in the shed was locked.

She forged her mothers signature in local shops to get food and once took €50 from her mother’s clothes to feed the other children.

When she was 10 years old her mother gave birth prematurely to one of her sisters and when the baby came home at six weeks old she was left to care for her and the other children as her parents were out “celebrating.”

She said the baby slept in her single bed beside her and when she was unable to get the infant to stop crying she was hit into the face by the accused man. She said she would come home from school to find her parents out drinking and the baby on her own in a car seat.

She said on one occasion social workers were due to visit she was told to clean the house. When she finished cleaning downstairs she told the accused she was tired and refused to clean upstairs. He squeezed her by the throat and told her to do it.

She was also told if she said anything she would get what was coming to her.

The girl told gardai  that on another occasion she had slapped her brother when he was acting up and her father had stabbed her into the thigh with a pair of pliers leaving a scar.

After the children were taken into care they were still able to see their parents and on one occasion the eldest girl said the accused had threatened her. The children were told not to say anything about what happened in the house.

In her victim impact statement the eldest girl said she still feels responsible for her brothers and sisters and feels a need to be in control because it gives her a peaceful mind.

The young woman said she had severe anger issues and still flinches when someone lifts their hand. She said that every time she changes her clothes she see the scars left by physical abuse.

Speaking about becoming the possibility of becoming a mother in the future she said: “I am afraid I will make the same mistakes they made.”

She said what she was doing was not just for her but also for her siblings.

Gda Ni Chathain said the second eldest girl also made a statement in 2011 and said all she remembered was her parents arguing and drinking alcohol. She said they had to look after themselves and any money that came into the house was spent straight away on alcohol.

She described how her parents had taken her to the pub and made her sing so people would give her money which they would then spend on alcohol. She described her childhood as “horrible” and said she was always frightened of her parents.

The foster parents of some children described how they were frightened, dirty and malnourished when they arrived. They did not know how to use cutlery and the youngest girl would eat with her mouth without using her hands.

They were not toilet trained, would wipe their hands on the wall after using the toilet and did not know how to flush the toilet or use a shower. They had never used toothbrushes.

The foster parents would take turns staying up at night as the children would wake and sometimes scream and have nightmares.

The man was charged with the offences in 2012 and denied any wrong doing.

Gda Ni Chathain agreed with Mr  McGrath that the accused had “sacrificed the welfare of his children for alcohol.”

Mr McGrath said it was clearly a difficult and sad case which will have knock on effects on the children. He noted the children had been provided with a caring home by their foster parents.

He said the accused man’s recollection of events had been clouded by his chronic alcohol use but gradually he had come to accept the full extent of what he had done.

He said reports handed into court indicated the man was beginning a process of examining his behaviour and was now disgusted and ashamed

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