A convicted paedophile has been jailed for three and a half years for sexually assaulting a one year old baby who had been left in his care while her parents went out drinking.
Michael O’Brien (46) committed the abuse against a backdrop of severe neglect and physical abuse by the child’s parents. The court heard there was no clean clothes, electricity or food in the house at the time, although food was kept in the freezer for when social workers came for inspections.
Last month, O’Brien was released from a twelve year sentence imposed in 2008 for the sexual abuse of two children who were under the age of six. In 1993 he was jailed for four years for the aggravated sexual assault of a 60 year old woman during a burglary of her home.
Describing the assault as “a vile and monstrous act” against a child whose parents had failed in their duties, Judge Sarah Berkeley said O'Brien had undergone treatment programmes in prison to lessen his chance of re-offending in future, but he needed to do more.
Suspending 18 months of a five year jail term, she ordered that he continue to undergo treatment in prison and cooperate with the probation services on his eventual release.
O’Brien, with a last address in County Limerick, pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to sexually assaulting the baby at her home in the west of Ireland between April 2005 and October 2006. He was convicted by a jury earlier this year.
During an earlier sentencing hearing a local garda told prosecuting counsel Anne Rowland BL that when the baby was born her parents brought her home, handed her to her ten-year-old sister and told her that she had to look after her.
The older sibling told gardaí that on many occasions she returned home to find the baby in a car seat in front of the television while the parents were out drinking.
In 2005 the parents returned to the house drunk with O’Brien. From then on O’Brien regularly stayed in the house and babysat the children.
The older sister told the trial that she was afraid of O’Brien and would lock her and her siblings in a room when he was there.
One day she came home and found O’Brien sexually assaulting the baby in the sitting room. The baby was not clothed at the time. The ten-year-old grabbed a poker and hit O’Brien, telling him to get away from her sister.
When the children’s mother returned home she beat the ten-year-old with the poker as punishment for hitting O’Brien. The child was too afraid to tell her mother about the sexual abuse.
The children were later taken into care where the older sister told gardaí about the sexual assault while detailing the neglect they faced in the house.
A foster parent for the children told the trial that most of them were not toilet trained and they did not know how to use cutlery or a toothbrush.
An examination of O’Brien’s victim showed apparent physical evidence of the sexual abuse and O’Brien was arrested and interviewed. He admitted babysitting the children sometimes but denied sexual abuse.
Judge Berkeley said that the apparent physical harm had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be caused by the abuse, so she could not take it into consideration when passing sentence.
Defence counsel Geraldine Fitzpatrick SC said her client now accepts the verdict of the jury. She said O’Brien left school early and worked steadily as a butcher and farm labourer. She said he has no contact with most of his family since his previous conviction.
Ms Fitzpatrick asked Judge Berkeley to consider “the light at the end of the tunnel principle” and allow O’Brien a chance to rehabilitate himself for his eventual release.
She also asked the judge to consider the social stigma and publicity associated with the sexual abuse cases but conceded this was a lesser mitigating factor for someone with O’Brien’s convictions.