'I was afraid he was going to come get me' - victim of man who coerced young girls to send sexually graphic photos
Paedophile who coerced young girls (9) to send sexually graphic pictures through popular social media apps sentenced to nine-and-a-half years, with the final two suspended
A paedophile who sexually exploited children as young as nine and distributed child pornography online has been jailed for seven and a half years.
Matthew Horan (26) appeared before Dublin Circuit Court this afternoon where he was sentenced after pleading guilty to child exploitation as well as possession and distribution of child porn.
He was given a nine-and-a-half year jail term, with the final two years suspended on the grounds that he abides to a number of post release conditions.
Horan used apps including Instagram, Snapchat and Kik to coerce young girls into sending him sexually explicit videos and pictures.
In sentencing, Judge Martin Nolan described Horan as an "inadequate" individual who was attracted to those "not in a capacity to challenge" his communications sets.
A victim impact statement from one of Horan's victims was read to the court, in which the young girl described how Horan threatened to come to her home if she spoke to anyone about the exploitation.
"I told him where I lived and I was afraid that he was going to come and get me," the victim impact statement read.
The young girl said that she didn't want to come to court to give evidence, but hoped that in doing so it would prevent such cases happening in future.
The court heard how Horan's father's Clondalkin home was attacked on Monday night "by persons unknown" following his court appearance that day.
A number of windows at the property were smashed, the court was told.
Wearing a red jumper, white shirt and glasses, Horan showed no emotion when the sentence was read out and stared at the floor throughout the hearing.
Judge Nolan said that Horan had "done a lot of damage" and that, while he was aware that what he was doing was wrong, he continued to sexually exploit and coerce young children.
Det Supt Declan Daly, of the Garda Protective Services Bureau, said that Horan's acts served as a "timely reminder" of the dangers the internet poses to young children.
"It serves a reminder for us all, parents in particular, to be vigilant of the internet use regarding their children.
"It serves a reminder for children themselves to be aware of the dangers that are on the internet.
"I would like to take his opportunity to renew An Garda Siochana key message for internet safety for children, in that it is exceptionally dangerous to share images online.
"It is very, very dangerous and children should never agree to meet any person on the internet.
"If images are shared or an approach is made on the internet, we certainly recommend that they should not share anymore images. They should stop all communication, they should tell a parent," Det Supt Daly said.
The senior officer, who led the year-long investigation into Matthew Horan, also said that any evidence relating to chat logs or sensor of images should be preserved and Gardai notified immediately.
Earlier this week the court heard how Matthew Horan threatened to share an 11-year-old girl’s nude images to her social media if she didn’t send him more graphic photos.
In the text exchange between them, this little girl repeated that she would kill herself. Horan then continued to coerce her to send more images, the court heard.
He pleaded guilty to two more counts of sexually exploiting a child and one count of distributing child porn on dates in 2015. He further pleaded guilty to possessing child porn at his address on July 11, 2015.
He pleaded guilty to three further counts of sexually exploiting female children through Snapchat and Instagram in the State on dates between May 21, 2015 and July 7, 2016.
The large garda investigation into Horan also uncovered a number of other suspected sex offenders who are now the subject of inquiries.
Judge Martin Nolan said that Horan had a very unhealthy, insidious and debased sexual interest in children.
He said the crimes were all committed for Horan's indulgence and pleasure and Horan had exploited children in a most horrible way. He said Horan's actions would have long-term effects on the victims.
He noted a medical report which stated that child porn became Horan's autistic fixated interest. This interest serves as a source of pleasure and relaxation for those on the autistic spectrum.
"He knew what he was doing was wrong. He understood the damage and yet he didn't stop what he was doing," he said.
Judge Nolan backdated the sentence to June last year, when Horan went into custody. He ordered a report from the Probation Service into what interventions and services the prison service could provide to reform Horan.
"If there are such interventions, he has to partake of those meaningfully. It is important for society and him that he is given certain interventions that will change him," he said.
One of the victims, who was ten when Horan exploited her, told the court that she thought chatting online was safe and was "like making a new friend".
"It wasn't. It made me feel ashamed, scared and alone," she said. She said she felt sad and angry about the exploitation but she wanted to prevent it happening to anybody else.
"I felt scared because I told him where I had lived. I was afraid he was going to come and get me," she said, in a victim impact statement read out in court today.
Two other victim impact statements, written by the parents of two of the nine-year-old victims, were read out in court on Monday.
Outside the court, Detective Superintendent Declan Daly said this case was a "timely reminder of the dangers that can occur on the Internet and the need for parents to be vigilant of their children's Internet use".
He said it was "exceptionally dangerous" for children to share images online, and that children should never agree to meet any person on the internet.
He said if images were shared already, gardaí recommended that children should not share any more images, stop all communication and tell a parent or a appropriate adult.
"They should preserve the evidence and not delete anything and they should report the matter to gardaí," he said.
Det Gda Connolly told Mr Staines that American authorities contacted gardaí about a gmail account being used to share child porn. Investigators eventually tracked the gmail account to Horan and gardaí searched his address.
They seized a number of devices and got him to disclose all of the passwords to his online applications.
In a forensic investigation that took over a year, expert gardaí discovered thousands of images and videos of child porn. Some of these involved young babies.
Horan also engaged in graphic text exchanges with the child users in which he would describe violent sexual acts.
Det Gda Connolly said Horan would copy and paste the same descriptions of sexual acts he would like to do and send them to multiple message recipients.
He would also send Kik messages to users, opening with the question: “Yo, wanna see some child porn?” before sending graphic images.
Det Gda Connolly told Mr Staines that forensic experts also found Skype conversations between Horan and an individual who is currently under investigation and who had a young daughter.
Through the conversations Horan and this man shared fantasies about the young girl.
Horan told the man: “We’re just two sick f**ks who are totally cool with being sick f**ks”.
Det Gda Connolly agreed with Patrick Gageby SC, defending, that his client had a closed existence with incessant activity on the internet.
He further agreed that Horan had never established physical contact with any of the children and there was no evidence of commercial gain through sharing the images.
Mr Gageby said his client was a perpetual loner who was on the autism spectrum. He said the death of his mother when he was aged three left his father adrift and this had an effect on his upbringing.
He said that a psychological report stated that "fixated interests of people on the autism spectrum often functions as a way of reducing stress". He added that it was hard to see if there were any other interests in Horan's life.
He said Horan lived a dingy existence and that since completing his Leaving Cert in 2009 he has done nothing except to be at home and be on the computer.
On Monday, the father of one of the then nine-year-old girls made a victim impact statement on her behalf, describing how she was targeted by an online predator who she thought was a child her own age.
He said she had bought her Samsung phone with her Communion money to watch cartoons, dancing and singing online. He said it came as an "absolute shock" when gardaí contacted him and he could never have dreamt of the purpose for the subsequent meeting with officers.
He said he was shown an image of his daughter and felt like his home "had been invaded and a burglary had taken place". The man said he also felt guilty because he had failed to protect his child.
He said he was upset and uncomfortable because once something was out there on the internet, it could never be erased.
"This makes us sick to the pits of our stomachs," the father said in the victim impact statement.
He added that the events would only become clearer for his daughter when she gets older.
The other little girl's mother submitted a victim impact report on her behalf in which she described how her child had gotten the phone for a similar purpose, to watch cartoons and singing online.
The woman said when she found out her daughter had been targeted by an online predator pretending to be a child, "my body started to shake, my blood started to boil".
The mother said she felt so bad that she failed to protect her child and that she would never get over what happened.
Additional reporting by Declan Brennan and Aoife Nic Ardghail