Tuesday 20 August 2019

'He was so flippant about it' - sisters speak out as father is jailed for abuse

  • Retired soldier jailed for 10 years for abuse of his daughters
  • Melissa O'Keeffe and Amy Barrett waived right to anonymity
  • Cork sisters open up about the years of abuse
  • 'It's not your fault. I didn't ask for this and Melissa didn't ask for this either' - advice to other victims

Sarah-Jane Murphy and Jason Kennedy

Two Cork sisters have opened up about the years of abuse they were subjected to by their father, who was today sentenced to jail for 10 years for his crimes.

Melissa O’Keeffe and Amy Barrett were abused from a young age by Jerry O'Keeffe at their family home at The Arch, Youghal, Co Cork.

Ms Barrett, who was raped by her father over a period of five years, starting when she was eight years old, said today that she still loves him.

"I had an opportunity to confront my dad a few years ago and I did. I said 'Do you remember abusing me, dad?' and he said 'I do, girl' like I had just said something so casual. He’s very flippant about it all.

"I still love my dad, and I know people might think that’s just mental, but I do," she said to 3News’ Paul Byrne.

Ms O'Keeffe, who was abused from the age of 11, said she no longer wants anything to do with her father.

Melissa O'Keeffe and her sister Amy Barrett leave court after their father, Jerry O'Keeffe (68) of Oakhill, Youghal, Cork received a 10 year jail term at the Central Criminal Court Pic: Collins Courts
Melissa O'Keeffe and her sister Amy Barrett leave court after their father, Jerry O'Keeffe (68) of Oakhill, Youghal, Cork received a 10 year jail term at the Central Criminal Court Pic: Collins Courts

"I don’t like him, I don’t like him, I’ve nothing, no more to do with him, do you know what I mean? He’s dead to me, I suppose."

The retired soldier was today jailed for ten years.

Justice Patrick McCarthy said that Mr O'Keeffe's crimes brought about the destruction of his daughters' childhoods.

“It is hard to find words to describe each new outrage inflicted on these children,” the judge said.

O'Keeffe (68), of Oakhill, Youghal, Cork, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to three charges of rape, five of indecent assault and one of sexual assault. These were nine sample charges out of a total of 78 covering a period from January 1980 to March 1987.

At a pre-sentencing hearing last October, Timothy O'Leary SC, prosecuting, told the court that both women were waiving their right to anonymity.

Speaking outside court today, Ms Barrett said she and Ms O'Keeffe were happy with the sentence, but sad at the same time as O'Keeffe is still their father.

“It's almost like we're in mourning for him now.

“It was never about the sentence, it was always about an admission of guilt, keeping him away from other kids, and getting closure for ourselves,” she said.

In her victim impact statement, Amy Barrett described her childhood as very traumatic, and said she was “a mixed bag of confusion and terror” as a result of her father's crimes.

Previously the court heard that the rape charges and two charges of indecent assault related to O'Keeffe's eldest daughter, Amy Barrett, and took place at the family home at The Arch, Youghal, Co Cork.

Mr Justice McCarthy said the defendant's rape of his daughter Amy occurred over a period of five years, starting when she was eight years old, was a commonplace event and amounted to “repeated, extremely serious abuse”.

He said the assaults against Melissa O'Keeffe, which went on for six years, were also extremely serious. O'Keeffe would go into the child's bedroom late at night after returning from the pub and climb into bed beside her at the family's new home at Catherine's Street, Youghal, Co Cork. He would then molest her, the court heard.

Mr Justice McCarthy said their victim impact statements conveyed a degree of hurt and pain that was difficult to understand. He added that their experience was best surmised by Ms Barrett's statement that she loved and trusted her Dad, and he in turn had betrayed that trust.

Mr Justice McCarthy said he was taking O'Keeffe's guilty plea into account in mitigation, but said it came "not at the eleventh hour but at five minutes to midnight" after legal proceedings had commenced.

Referring to O'Keeffe's age, he said “these days 68 is no great age” and said it would not count towards mitigation of his sentence. He said the case merited consecutive sentences relating to each daughter, and that the appropriate total period of incarceration was ten years.

He imposed a seven-year sentence for the rape offences and a three-year term of imprisonment for the sexual assaults, to run consecutively.

Mr Justice McCarthy instructed that O'Keeffe's name be added to the sex offenders register and said he must liaise with the probation services for a period of three years following his release.

Today, Amy Barrett encouraged other victims of sexual abuse and rape to come forward, saying it's never too late.

“It's not your fault. I didn't ask for this and Melissa didn't ask for this either,” she said.

During the sentence hearing last month, Sergeant John Sharkey told the court that O'Keeffe regularly asked Amy, who was aged eight at the time, to sit on his lap in the siting room. He would then sexually assault her before bringing her upstairs to his bedroom where he would remove his clothes and rape her. The abuse ended in 1985 when she was aged 12.

In her victim impact statement Amy Barrett said she found making friends very difficult and attempted suicide after the birth of her first child “just to get some peace.” She said still suffers from panic attacks and the sexual abuse took most of her confidence away.

Ms Barrett paid tribute to the Rape Crisis Centre in Cork, who she said supported her throughout the last few years since she reported the matter to gardaí.

“I have had feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment and hurt for years but today I hand them back to my Dad,” she said.

The sisters reported the abuse to the Southern Health Board in 1999 after attending the Rape Crisis Centre in Cork. As a result O'Keeffe agreed to leave the family home and no further action was taken against him.

Melissa O'Keeffe said she went to gardaí in 1999 but withdrew the allegations after her parents confronted her. Both victims reported the matter to gardaí again in October 2014.

A victim impact statement on behalf of Ms O'Keeffe described how she resisted calling out for her mother in case she got into trouble.

“I went to gardaí to make a complaint in 1999 but my parents confronted me so I had to lie and say I made it all up,” she said.

Ms O'Keeffe said she found it hard to settle in relationships as a result of the abuse.

“If I get a certain smell or if someone moves in a certain way I freak out. But today I finally have the voice that I didn't have when I was 16,” she said.

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