Monday 14 October 2019

Ex-scout leader who sexually abused neighbour (13) jailed for three months

Guilty: James ‘Jim’ Leddy Snr was convicted of indecent assault
Guilty: James ‘Jim’ Leddy Snr was convicted of indecent assault

Jessica Magee and Sonya McLean

A former scout leader who sexually abused his 13-year-old neighbour has been jailed for three months after he said he cannot recollect the incidents but fully accepts his guilt.

James Leddy (55) was found guilty of three counts of indecently assaulting Colm Bracken (51) at Leddy’s former home on Maryfield Avenue in Artane on dates between May and September 1981.

Leddy had pleaded not guilty, but was convicted on all counts by majority verdict after a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last December. Mr Bracken waived his right to anonymity.

Judge Pauline Codd sentenced Leddy to eight months in prison, but suspended the final five months on strict conditions including that he engage with the Probation Service for those five months.

The judge had adjourned the case last July after Fiona Murphy SC, defending, told her Leddy had no recollection of the offences but accepted the verdict of the jury and knew he must take responsibility for his actions.

However Judge Codd cited a previous Probation Service report saying that Leddy “adamantly denies” his guilt, and said she could not pass sentence without clarity on Leddy’s position.

Today Ms Murphy said Leddy was aware of the emotional and mental torment he caused Mr Bracken and was “genuinely remorseful that he has caused this”.

“His genuine instruction is that he has no recollection of it but he fully accepts guilt and offers a full apology,” Ms Murphy said.

Judge Codd stated that she was bound by the law which existed in Ireland at the time of the offending in 1981 which sets a maximum sentence of two years. She noted that this is the maximum term regardless of whether the abuse involved violence, degradation, oral or anal rape, or molestation of children.

Judge Codd referred to Mr Bracken's victim impact report as “eloquent” during which he outlined having experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of the abuse. She said he described it as “a living nightmare, like a nightmare movie on a loop”.

He was hospitalised at different times during which he was on suicide watch and Mr Bracken also spoke in his statement of how he found the “trial process unbelievably hard and distressing”.

Judge Codd said the long-lasting detrimental effects on Mr Bracken were “evident throughout his evidence, his demeanour in court and his victim impact report”.

“He was very distressed on occasions and has suffered a profound sense of grief, pain and anger,” the judge said.

She noted that both men were minors at the time and said although the crimes had a long-lasting effect on the victim, Leddy had in the mean time led “a pro-social life” and has never re-offended.

The judge also considered that the abuse occurred at a time in Ireland when there was “much repression and secrecy in relation to sexual matters”.

Judge Codd also noted that Leddy claimed he was abused himself at the time and that the this type of abuse “went on in the scouts at that time and was somewhat normalised in that regard”.

She also said there was “no mechanism by which the court” could have a contemporary understanding of Leddy's level of maturity as a 17-year-old or his overall psychological welfare.

She accepted that he was experiencing difficulties at the time as his father had died when he was eight years old and his mother was suffering under financial strain and depression as a result. He was often left at home alone and the family were “socially isolated”.

Judge Codd noted that Leddy was a married man with five children and that a number of references before the court referred to him as being a “trustworthy” and “a good family man”.

She took into account that he had mental health difficulties dating back to 2012, that he now expressed his remorse and that he had been placed on the sex offenders register.

EVIDENCE

Previously Mr Bracken wrote a victim impact statement read out on his behalf. He said he grew up a few doors down from Leddy and joined the 49th Ardlea Cub-Scouts aged seven and moved to Scouts at 11.

The court heard Leddy was a former leader of the 49th Ardlea Scouts Troop.

Mr Bracken said his happy, carefree childhood in a close-knit community disappeared when Leddy first abused him in 1981, around the time of his 13th birthday.

He said he had been playing on the street with a friend when Leddy called him over and invited him in to his house to learn First Aid.

Leddy offered the boy a cigarette and asked him to sit on his lap. Leddy then told the boy to lie across his lap, before pulling down his trousers and sexually assaulting him.

Mr Bracken told gardaí he didn’t know what was going on. Leddy told the child not to tell anyone or he would tell his parents that he’d been smoking.

“My father would have killed me if he found out I was smoking. My silence was a guarantee,” said Mr Bracken.

The court heard that Leddy abused the child some days later and several more times over the course of the summer.

Mr Bracken said that at one stage of his life he carried a rucksack with “a length of rope to tie around my neck and finally put a tourniquet on my memories”.

He said that going through a trial was like “reliving the hell” Leddy had put him through in graphic detail under public scrutiny, and had caused great distress to his wife, family and ageing parents.

He said the although the guilty verdict brought “some relief” in that he had been vindicated in a court of law, it would never eradicate what Leddy had done.

Mr Bracken said he would probably remain an outpatient at various psychiatric institutions. He said he could not comprehend how different his life might have been had he not crossed paths with “a paedophile dressed as a scout leader”.

He said his life became a living nightmare, where memories of the abuse were like a horror movie that played endlessly in his head “with no off or mute button”.

The court heard Mr Bracken worked seven days a week to try to distract himself and had spent several long periods in hospital, strapped to a bed on suicide watch.

He said on one occasion, he had been standing on a bridge ready to jump when a phone call from his son made him realise he could never transfer his pain onto his son’s shoulders.

Mr Bracken said when he realised that Leddy had a private bus hire company with access to children, he decided to contact gardaí in 2011.

Garda Deirdre McInerney told Gerardine Small, prosecuting, that Leddy made a voluntary statement in 2013 at the request of gardaí.

Leddy - of Sheephill Avenue, Blanchardstown, Dublin - told gardaí he knew Mr Bracken as a neighbour but didn’t understand the accusations and didn’t remember anything.

Ms Murphy said Leddy was 17 at the time of the offences and had gone on to live a productive life. A letter from Pieta House confirmed Leddy was attending counselling.

Ms Murphy said her client left school at 14 and worked various jobs including as a taxi driver before working as a bus driver until 2017.

She said Leddy is on the Sex Offenders’ Register which is part of his punishment and was subject to publicity after his conviction as well as considerable abuse online.

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