Thursday 23 November 2017

Man who abducted and falsely imprisoned boy (11) walks free from court after getting suspended sentence

*Dr Thomas Pfeiffer's trial was told that the schoolboy was zipped into a sleeping bag in his home
*The boy was made exercise until he was exhausted, and was then weighed and measured by Pfeiffer
*Nothing ‘untoward’ happened – boy made do ‘jumping jacks’, push-ups and sit-ups until exhausted
*The schoolboy was from Germany – he had arrived in Ireland to improve his English on special programme
*Pfeiffer picked up boy from Dublin airport and drove him to his home in Waterford
*Pfeiffer had arranged for boy to stay with a legitimate ‘host’ family in nearby Tramore
*Schoolboy’s family had been told he would be taken from airport to host family
*Hearing told Pfeiffer emailed the boy’s family beforehand claiming to be a woman named as Barbara O’Neill
*As Barbara O’Neill, he claimed schoolboy would be staying with another host family before going to Tramore
*Court told that boy ‘has lost trust in everybody’ since the incident
*Court hears boy was unsure what would happen to him during time with Pfeiffer and was ‘frightened’
*Judge describes the case as ‘very unusual and bizarre’
*Judge give Pfeiffer three-year suspended sentence
*She orders he is to have no further involvement with children in educational or sporting programmes
*Court also told he has been beaten up in prison since trial in December
Thomas Pfeiffer
Thomas Pfeiffer

A MAN who abducted and falsely imprisoned an 11-year-old boy over two nights walked free from court after receiving a three-year suspended sentence.

Dr Thomas Pfeiffer (51), a doctor of engineering who has worked in research at the Waterford Institute of Technology, was found guilty on three counts in December following a four-day trial.

However, after spending more than seven weeks in jail, he was yesterday released on bail. 

The charges relate to a German boy, in Ireland to improve his English, who was zipped into a sleeping bag at Pfeiffer’s home for two nights. 

The boy was made to exercise until exhausted over that weekend and was weighed and measured.

He then needed to be helped out of the bag on those mornings.

The boy, then aged 11, told the trial in December that he “did not know what was ahead” of him. 

Pfeiffer was cleared on one count of false imprisonment in December but was found guilty on two counts of false imprisonment and one count of child abduction.

At the Circuit Criminal Court in Waterford yesterday, Judge Pauline Codd handed down a three-year suspended jail term for the abduction charge along with two, one-year suspended sentences for both false imprisonment charges.

All of the charges, which will run concurrently, were suspended for a period of three years.

In the victim impact report yesterday, the boy’s mother said that her son “was definitely very open-minded and curious” about the world, but “this has changed”.

She said: “His trust into people, into his own strength, into his feeling of being a strong, open-minded boy who can embrace the world and would be welcomed the same way back, has gone.”

Prosecutor Noel Whelan (BL) told the court yesterday how Dr Pfeiffer, with an address at Meadowview, Coolfin in Portlaw, Co Waterford, picked up the 11-year-old German boy at Dublin Airport on January 31, 2009 and drove him to his home in Co Waterford.

The boy had arrived in Ireland as part of a programme advertised as “English – K12”, in order to improve his English. 

Pfeiffer had arranged for the boy to stay with a legitimate family engaged by him from Tramore for the entirety of the boy's stay. It was arranged that he would attend Fenor National School .

Detective Garda Jennifer Ryan told Mr Whelan how the boy and his family originally understood he would be taken directly to his host family in Tramore, but this did not happen.

Pfeiffer, who has a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering and a Doctorate in Computer Science, had invented a woman called Barbara O’Neill, who supposedly worked for the exchange programme, with emails to the boy’s mother purporting to be from her.

The court heard how Pfeiffer also “deceptively” invented a “Cahill family” at a place called “Riversbend” in Portnaboe, Carrick-on-Suir that also does not exist.

Det Gda Ryan said that “it was only by chance” that the boy’s family discovered he would not be staying with the “host” family upon arrival. 

The boy’s mother rang the mother of the host family to tell her to allow him ring home whenever he wished during his stay and that she would reimburse her for the phone calls.

However, the boy’s mother learned that he would not be staying with her but with a Cahill family in Carrick-on-Suir.

Mr Whelan said that while “nothing untoward” happened during his time at Portlaw, the boy was made to do “jumping jacks”, push ups and sits ups until exhausted, while he was also weighed and measured. 

He was also placed in a sleeping bag from which he could not get out until assisted in the mornings and had no contact with his mother over that weekend.

When Pfeiffer delivered the boy to the host mother, on the Monday, he told her that the boy was “a bit homesick”.

Det Gda Ryan described the set-up as “a one-man operation” and that when questioned by gardai, on foot of a complaint by the boy’s mother and aunt, he “didn’t take any responsibility”.

“He denied any wrongdoing,” said Det Ryan.

John O’Kelly (SC) told Judge Codd yesterday that lies about the identities were “to conveniences himself” while there was “no ulterior motive” and that he “was basically puffing up his own organisation”.

The guilty man, who has lost weight and looks drawn since incarceration, was assaulted twice while in prison, said Mr O'Kelly.

“He is very sorry for any upset caused to the family; he has paid a dreadful price for that.”

Judge Codd said: “It is very clear that this is a very unusual and bizarre case.”

The manner in which the boy was treated was “most peculiar”, while the boy said he was “frightened and angry at the situation”.

“His trust in people is gone.”

It was “a very unusual case” where the accused has “little insight” and came on “the higher end of the lower scale”.

She bound Pfeiffer to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for three years.  He is to have no further involvement with children in educational or sporting programmes.

Pfeiffer was escorted out of court by a solicitor back to the offices of the John O’Donoghue firm on nearby Waterside.

He hid himself behind a folder and was wearing a blue hooded jacket.  He made no comment.

The boy’s mother, in the victim impact statement, said her son had been a “strong, open-minded boy”.  She added: “He is now 16-years-old and I am hoping that he will – as time goes by – again feel that he is that person and that it wasn’t his fault.

“He will never forget what happened to him and it will always be a strong part of his approach towards the world.  That is a very strong negative impact and it is hard to see that it changed him so much.”

Ciaran Murphy

Irish Independent

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