Wednesday 17 January 2018

Tragic Michelle 'never got over ordeal'

Family angry at sentence for sex attack that led victim to take her life

Sharon Hennessy holding a picture of her late twin Sister Michelle at her home yesterday evening
Sharon Hennessy holding a picture of her late twin Sister Michelle at her home yesterday evening
A shrine for Michelle at her home in Co Kildare
Sharon Hennessy with a picture of her late twin sister Michelle
Sean Thackaberry who has been jailed for sexually assaulting Michelle in 2011
A sky dive that Michelle was part of. Mark Condren

THE heartbroken family of a young woman who took her own life after she was sexually assaulted said she was never the same following the horrific ordeal.

Sean Thackaberry (20), of Maryville, Melita Road, Kildare town, has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, with the final two-and-a-half suspended, after he pleaded guilty to the attack on Michelle Hennessy near her home.

Last night Michelle's mother Peggy and twin sister Sharon said the young skydiving fanatic became terrified to leave her home soon after the attack.

She lost a huge amount of weight and claims by some people in the town that she was making up the accusations all got too much for her, according to her family.

Michelle took her own life just over a year ago, in October 2012. Her mother said: "After getting attacked, she went into a world of her own and she got shockingly thin.

SCREAMS

"She lost her own independence and she couldn't cope because she got a lot of hassle. For ages people would be intimidating her and saying she was making it up.

"Knitting became her hobby and she would sit down by the fire and knit bags and other things."

Michelle was attacked by Thackaberry when she was walking home through Kildare town in the early hours of January 30, 2011. She was 26 at the time, and Thackaberry was 18.

Thackaberry, who has an intellectual disability, threw her over a wall and subjected her to an aggravated sexual assault which lasted 20 minutes.

Michelle was rescued when a passing garda patrol heard her screams and gave chase to Thackaberry.

During the trial, the court heard written testimony from the victim but no oral evidence as Michelle had already died.

Thackaberry was convicted of sexual assault, after the defence asked for the charge of rape to be dropped, based on Michelle's written evidence as well as medical reports from the time.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Barry White said it was difficult to ascertain the exact nature of the assault but that he was satisfied that it lay on the upper-middle range of the scale.

Peggy said her daughter felt "humiliated" and "tormented" in the months after the attack and went from "a bubbly person to a very sad person".

She feels the sentence imposed allows her attacker to resume a normal life, while her family's sentence is eternal.

"He really should have got more. There'll be two-and-a-half years knocked off that now. What good is that? Michelle is gone and he's still there. I think he should have got more.

"Even if he had got seven-and-a-half years full, it would have been something. He could have done with a few more years," she said.

Despite her disappointment, she said her family could take solace that they have won justice for Michelle.

"But at least it's a sentence anyhow. I would feel worse if we hadn't got anything, but at least we got justice for her. We got justice for her. That's the truth," she said.

"She's gone and we're never going to get her back and he's still there. I call them free men (in prison) because they're fed and looked over and get more help than she ever got when she needed it most."

Michelle's twin, Sharon, paid tribute to her sister's love of adventure and said she had become the first woman in Ireland to perform a tandem skydive from a hot-air balloon.

She said Michelle's passion was skydiving and that she had previously entered the record books by joining 10 other women in a 13,000ft formation skydive – one of 600 she completed with the Irish skydiving club.

"Today Michelle finally got her justice, it's just a shame she is not here to see it herself.

"She can now rest in peace knowing justice has been done for her," Sharon said after the sentencing yesterday.

In the year after her sister's death, Sharon has helped raise more than €30,000 for suicide awareness.

Sam Griffin

Irish Independent

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