Wednesday 13 November 2019

Father who tried to kill his children is jailed for 12 years

Victims' support group attacks judge for 'low' sentence

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Shane Phelan and Eimear Cotter

A group supporting victims of crime has criticised as “very low” the sentence handed down to a father who attempted to murder his four children.

The man, who cannot be named to protect his children, was jailed for 12 years with the final four suspended on a number of conditions by Mr Justice Michael White at the Central Criminal Court.

The man admitted attempting to murder his children at an address in the southeast on June 3, 2016, a month after his marriage broke down.

He strangled two of the children, leaving them for dead, before moving on to the two others in a different bedroom.

The sentence was heavily criticised by Sally Hanlon, director of services at Support After Crime Services, a group offering support to victims of crime.

She said the final four years should not have been suspended in circumstances where the man was given concurrent rather than consecutive sentences for each count of attempted murder.

“I think that sentence is very low, really and truly, when you think of defenceless children being injured by somebody they should trust and love,” Ms Hanlon told the Irish Independent last night.

Ms Hanlon continued: "This crime was not committed by a stranger, but by their father who was or should have been somebody they loved and trusted not to inflict those type of injuries on them or try to take their lives. The sentence is very mild for four attempts of murder on young kids."

Imposing sentence yesterday, Mr Justice Michael White said the crime was of the "utmost seriousness" and the man's "previous exemplary record as a father" made it even harder to understand. A condition of the suspension of the final four years is that the man have no contact with his children, unless they request it.

The judge said there was a narcissistic element to the crime, where the man showed a "complete lack of respect for the children's autonomy".

He had planned to take his own life after killing them, thinking they would be better off dead than without him.

The father had a history of depression and the judge considered a medical report and character references.

Mr Justice White also said that in mitigation, he had taken into account the man's psychiatric history, his plea of guilt, remorse and previous good character.

The judge also said he believed it appropriate to impose concurrent sentences rather than consecutive ones.

The court previously heard how during the ordeal one of the children told his father: "Daddy, we can get you help, just don't do it."

The man was minding his four children because his wife was going out for the night.

At 7.20pm that evening he arrived at a nearby house where his father was minding other grandchildren and said: "I hurt the kids, I've done something stupid to the kids."

Panicked

The grandfather ran to his son's house and found two of the children in a "panicked state" in the driveway and two others on their backs in the main bedroom.

One was crying and the other was unconscious.

Two of the children's faces were purple and their eyes were blood-shot. They were gasping for air and had red marks on their necks.

The man later told gardaí he had planned to kill himself when he found out his wife was going on a date that evening and he did not want his children upset that he had taken his life.

"I thought if I killed them they wouldn't be upset. I thought I had to do it," he said.

Mr Justice White had regard to a victim impact statement from the children's mother. In it she said she would never forget receiving a "horrible voicemail" from her eldest child screaming, and a Snapchat of one of her other children on the bed.

"I knew in my gut something crazy had happened," she said.

The judge took into account a report on the children by Tusla and a report by a psychotherapist on the eldest child.

Regarding the attempted murderer, he considered a medical report from his family GP, some 24 character references by friends and neighbours, along with a positive prison governor's report.

He explained that the sentence should take rehabilitation into consideration.

He also said the court had to assess the effect of his psychiatric illness on what happened. The man first presented to his GP in 2010 with low mood and contemplating suicide. The man said "he often thought of taking the lives of his wife and children".

Mr Justice White said aggravating factors included the horrific nature of the offence and the effect on the children's lives. "The future effect on their lives is not possible to quantify."

Irish Independent

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