Farmer sentenced to eight years over sex assault of four girls
A 59-year-old farmer was yesterday sentenced to eight years for sexually assaulting four young girls.
John O'Connell, of Killally, Castleisland, Co Kerry, had been found guilty of 29 separate charges that he had assaulted his victims at various locations, between July 2002 and October 2008, when they were aged between 10 and 15.
A teenager who was one of the four girls involved asked for future court hearings in such cases to be held behind closed doors.
The young woman, who spoke outside the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee, said she found the trial almost as difficult as the abuse because people not involved in the case could listen freely to highly personal evidence in court.
The visibly upset teenager said steps should be taken to make it less traumatic for victims of sex assaults to come forward.
She insisted, however, that it was worth it in the end.
"If nobody comes forward the only person that has won is the perpetrator," she said.
In the case 17 charges related to one victim, eight to a second, three to a third and one to a fourth girl. The assaults took place in houses, a car and in O'Connell's work van.
O'Connell is the owner of a 50-acre farm and was also employed with the water services department of Kerry County Council. The father of one is separated from the mother of his adult son but has had a relationship with another woman for the past 23 years.
In court last month the youngest of his victims told how the abuse had impacted on her life. "He took away my childhood. It had a terrible impact on my family," she said.
But she bravely added: "I know that the abuse will be part of my life but I am determined to make it a good life."
Garda Emma Mullane had read a statement on behalf of another of O'Connell's victims who said: "My life has changed so much because of this awful man who I hate so much."
She added that she found even simple things such as looking at photos and videos of her childhood very difficult.
The court heard that another of the victims, now aged 23, has been treated for depression and suffered an eating disorder after the abuse.
O'Connell had denied all the charges but a jury returned majority guilty verdicts on all counts, following almost seven hours of deliberations.
Passing sentence yesterday, Judge Carroll Moran said the four victims had been scarred for life and robbed of their childhoods as a result of the abuse.
Judge Moran sentenced O'Connell to a total of eight years in prison and refused an application for leave to appeal.
Speaking afterwards, Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre director Vera O'Leary praised the four victims for having the determination to go ahead with the case in very difficult circumstances.
"They deserve great gratitude for being so brave and courageous," she said.
"In breaking their silence they have encouraged more victims to come forward and realise that they can get justice," she said.