Wednesday 18 July 2018

How Tom Humphries waited six years to confess to child abuse

The former sportswriter's prison sentence, handed down last week, has been criticised as too lenient, writes Maeve Sheehan

Abuse: More than 16,000 messages — many sexually explicit and derogatory of her — were exchanged by Tom Humphries and the girl before he was discovered by his own daughter
Abuse: More than 16,000 messages — many sexually explicit and derogatory of her — were exchanged by Tom Humphries and the girl before he was discovered by his own daughter
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

IT was easy to forget that the celebrated sportswriter Tom Humphries took six years to confess to his crimes. At his sentencing in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last Tuesday, he looked resolved to his fate. Humphries, 54, had spent the last three weeks waiting for this day in prison - because he had chosen to go straight to jail rather than apply for bail. It was as though he couldn't get there fast enough. Such was his guilt that he had refused psychiatric help because he wanted to suffer. He wanted to feel the pain.

It was difficult not to have some sympathy for him, said Judge Karen O'Connor at one point, before announcing his punishment for grooming and sexually abusing a girl he targeted from the age of 14, when she was a young camogie player.

The judge acknowledged the suffering endured by the young woman. She also noted that it was "something of a truism that the higher the profile and success of a member of our society, the greater the fall".

Humphries was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

The gifted former Irish Times correspondent, a ghost writer for soccer's Niall Quinn and the GAA's Donal Og Cusack, the guy who interviewed Roy Keane in Saipan, has indeed fallen far.

Advocacy groups have questioned why his diminished status should feature as a mitigating factor, even though there is legal precedent for this, given that it was his status that gained him access to his victim.

His jail term has been widely criticised as being too lenient. The Director of Public Prosecutions is said to be considering an appeal. Court watchers would be forgiven for coming away with the impression that Humphries was an otherwise eminent middle-aged man who targeted a vulnerable, impressionable child and groomed her for sex at a time when his brain was fuddled by marriage breakdown and health problems.

But Humphries knew exactly what he was at, according to Judge O'Connor. Rejecting the suggestion that he suffered a "neurocognitive disorder" which may have impaired his judgment.

"Humphries was aware of his wrongdoing," she said.

When Humphries was found out in March 2011, the evidence was stacked against him.

For two years he had been sending thousands of text messages to a vulnerable young camogie player. He was a volunteer with a GAA club in north Dublin. She was a member of another club. The messages were at first innocuous words of encouragement. The girl didn't know where he'd got her phone number. He also knew things about her, such as that she had an eating disorder. After a couple of months, he texted her an image of his penis, which she found disgusting. He texted her happy birthday on her 15th and 16th birthdays, so he knew how old she was. After she turned 16, his texts became increasingly sexual. In December 2010, he arranged to pick her up outside her school on a Sunday morning. He brought her to his apartment in Santry where the defilement occurred. More than 16,000 messages - many sexually explicit and derogatory of her - were exchanged between that first meeting and March 2011 when he was discovered by his own daughter.

She had asked him for old mobile phones to donate to charity and he obliged. She found the grotesque texts from her father to a young girl similar in age to herself when she put a SIM card into his phone.

His daughter told her mother, who confronted Humphries the following day. Humphries could hardly reasonably deny the contents of his mobile phone.

At this point, Humphries made what gardai call "partial admissions". He was "distraught" and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, because of fears he would take his own life. His family reported Humphries to gardai, turning in three mobile phones.

Detectives had to wait 18 months before they could speak to Humphries about the allegations. And when they did, he said "nothing of probative value", which means that he did not tell detectives anything that would help advance their investigation. Although distraught to the point where he attempted to take his own life, he was not yet so remorseful that he would confess his activities.

By then gardai had already taken extensive statements from the young girl, who was then aged 16, and were preparing to build a case based on evidence on Humphries's three mobile phones.

Gardai learned of a second girl. She was now a young woman who claimed that she too had been groomed and abused by Humphries a year before he turned his attentions on the 14-year-old camogie player. She too was in a GAA club. She claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by Humphries in 2007 in Croke Park and at Dublin Airport.

Humphries was unable to enlighten investigators about these allegations. But detectives had enough evidence for the Director of Public Prosecutions to charge him with sexually assaulting the second girl. The Director of Public Prosecutions later dropped those charges.

Humphries spent much of 2011 and 2012 in St Patrick's psychiatric hospital. He had stopped working. He had already been outed by the Sunday World in April 2011 as the subject of a Garda investigation. He had attempted suicide twice, the court heard.

His friends and colleagues showed him compassion, perhaps none more than David Walsh, the chief sports writer for The Sunday Times, who went on to write a character reference for the friend of 30 years he said he could not abandon.

Other former colleagues of Humphries have spoken of being unaware or "misled" about the scale and gravity of the charges he faced.

On The Tonight Show on TV3 last week, Eamon Dunphy, the broadcaster and sportswriter, said he heard a "much more benign" story than the one that subsequently emerged in court.

"It was not about grooming. It was more of a question, I was told, of underage sex which is, of course, serious but he had been a colleague of mine and I went to see him and brought him a book," he said. "I spent an hour with him because I felt he hadn't at this stage been charged with anything but I knew this was pending."

Dunphy said he thought that Humphries would be charged with having sex with an underage girl. He didn't know about the grooming or the length of time it had been going on. There was no mention of a second girl.

"I believe in the early stages when I went to see Tom that I was misled… by someone who may have been misled themselves. If Tom Humphries is the man depicted as devious, wicked and guilty of these offences, he may well have misled people."

Paul Howard, the author, journalist and creator of Ross O'Carroll Kelly, recounted how in 2012 David Walsh was involved in proposing to set up a sports magazine for the benefit of Humphries, who was out of work at the time. He recounted the story in a string of tweets. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He asked me if I'd be interested in writing for such a magazine."

Paul Kimmage, the Sunday Independent sportswriter, spoke about Humphries on Claire Byrne Live. He said he returned from 10 years in London to learn that Humphries was being investigated and that he had tried to take his own life.

"I went in to see Tom in St Patrick's. What I saw was pitiful: a man who was in a dreadful state, who knew he had made a dreadful mistake and whose life was totally destroyed," he said.

He also said he "got a sense pretty quickly that maybe I wasn't being told everything. I decided, 'What is the right thing to do?' I had to ask myself. I still don't know the answer to this".

Kimmage decided "rightly or wrongly, to step away and let justice take its course".

David Walsh and Donal Og Cusack did not.

Both wrote character references for Humphries. Both have faced an enormous backlash for doing so, not just for supporting a child sex predator but for providing character references that may have assisted in mitigating his sentence from four years to two-and-a-half.

Cusack apologised and said he had shown a lack of judgment - his intention had been "to help a human in a dark place who asked me for help". He resigned from Sports Ireland and as a coach for Clare hurling.

Walsh condemned Humphries's crime but has refused to abandon his friend. "I have been a friend of his for 30 years and since his arrest in 2011 I continued to be his friend because I believe a friend is there through thick and thin," he said in a statement last week. "Tom did a terrible wrong for which he has now been given a custodial term."

In that now infamous 2012 interview with Matt Cooper's Last Word radio show on Today FM, David Walsh was adamant in defence of Humphries. "And all I would say about the Tom situation is that I know a damn sight more about it than most people. I believe Tom is a fine man. And I believe in the end, that will come out and people will understand he's a fine man," he said. The segment was broadcast for the first time after Humphries was sentenced.

It is hard to see how Walsh, a man who is renowned for integrity in sport, could have said what he said without having been utterly misled. In his statement last week, Walsh apologised for his "ill-judged" and "insensitive" comments but cast no blame on Humphries.

Humphries pleaded guilty to his crimes in March of this year, six years to the month after his daughter first discovered his crime.

At his sentencing hearing last week, Judge O'Connor said the biggest aggravating feature in the case was the impact on the injured party. (She did not want to be known as Humphries's victim). She felt guilt and shame and self-hatred, had missed college and school and had gone through counselling for a year-and-a-half. She had suffered from the court case being dragged out.

The biggest factor in Humphries's favour, however, was his plea of guilt. It was not an early plea, the judge noted, but it prevented a trial.

Humphries faced a maximum sentence of five years for defilement and life for sexual exploitation of a child. Judge O'Connor gave him four years for defilement and three for sexual exploitation, applied the mitigating factors and adjusted the sentence downwards to two-and-a-half years and two years. He will serve both sentences concurrently.

Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein's deputy leader, claimed that it brought the judiciary into disrepute and called for a sentencing council. The call was backed up by Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, who has particularly questioned why an abuser's fall from grace should have such influence on his sentencing.

"We remain here of the view that it was a lenient sentence," she said.

"He took her childhood. Her childhood was gone as a result. She suffered physical, mental and emotional illness. And for all of these at the end of the day the sentence was mitigated down to two-and-a-half years. That says something about how that level of harm - irreplaceable can't-be-fixed harm - was seen by the judge in fixing that sentence."

The thing about Tom Humphries is that he was not the child abuser "out there", she said.

"He was a person who was respected by some other very respected people and by his family... And that is true of people who commit sexual offences.

"They are not monsters. They are not aliens. They are normal people who are respected in their communities, trusted in their communities. And still it is important to know that those who commit sexual offences come from all strata in society, from the most respected to the least respected. There is no point saying it's 'them out there'. It's in all our lives."

Sunday Independent

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