Saturday 21 September 2019

Victim confronts child rapist who had been sent to a priest to be 'fixed'

Brave sisters waive anonymity so brother-in-law can be identified after being sentenced to 10 years in jail

Guilty: Bartholomew Prendergast. Picture: Collins
Guilty: Bartholomew Prendergast. Picture: Collins
Courageous: Sisters Deirdre Fahy (left) and Stephanie Hickey leave the Central Criminal Court. Photo: Collins

Sonya McLean

A rapist who was sent to a priest to be "fixed" was sentenced to 10 years in jail for sex attacks on two sisters and a third woman over the course of 12 years.

Stephanie Hickey (46) and her sister, Deirdre Fahy (52), waived their right to anonymity so their abuser and brother-in-law Bartholomew Prendergast (66) could be named.

Reading from her victim impact statement, Ms Hickey asked how the abuse could have continued when Prendergast was "supposedly fixed" after a priest directed him to get counselling.

She said at a hearing in the Central Criminal Court last July: "I was led to believe by a family friend, a priest, that in the 80s you were fixed.

"Who fixed you, was it the Catholic Church ... ? I was told that there was proof of this or so my sister, your wife, told me just under three years ago.

"If you were supposedly fixed, why did you continue to abuse me for years after?

"For this I feel very hurt, and let down by whoever fixed you. I need answers from whom you spoke to [to] help you at this time and again why as a child I wasn't protected. This hurt goes on."

Garda Patricia Lonergan told Michael Delaney SC, prosecuting, that after "something was brought to the attention of Stephanie's parents", a local priest was consulted and Prendergast was sent for counselling, but continued to abuse Ms Hickey afterwards.

Gda Lonergan said "various disclosures" had been made to different members of the families involved over the years, but nothing was ever done apart from the meeting with the priest.

All three women made statements to gardaí in December 2015.

Now the former Waterford County Council worker has been sentenced to 10 years for the sexual abuse and rape.

Prendergast, of Cruachan, Dungarvan, was arrested in April 2016 and interviewed three times. He denied ever raping Stephanie Hickey and said he was both "vehement and definite in those denials".

He pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the offences following a day of legal argument after a jury had been sworn in for his trial.

He has recently retired from Waterford County Council and is also a well-known musician in the locality. He has since separated from his wife, has three adult children, and has no previous convictions.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of rape and 13 counts of indecent assault of his sister-in-law Stephanie Hickey at locations in Co Waterford and Co Tipperary on dates between 1983 and 1987.

Ms Hickey was aged between 12 and 15 at the time.

Prendergast also pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault against Ms Fahy on a date between 1979 and 1981, while she was aged between 13 and 14.

He further pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault of a third woman, now 39 years old, on dates between 1988 and 1991, while she was aged between nine and 12.

Ms Justice Eileen Creedon suspended the final 18 months of a 10-year prison sentence on strict conditions, including that Prendergast undergoes a sex offenders treatment programme and be under the supervision of the Probation Service for 18 months.

She said it was clear that there was "a profound and negative impact on the victims" who were all left feeling "fear, guilt and shame".

She said Prendergast's crime also affected the women's family lives and their own relationships.

"He was part of the inner family circle," Ms Justice Creedon said, before she added that the women were entitled to feel safe in Prendergast's company and equally their parents should have been able to feel that their daughters would be safe with him.

The judge said the offences were "a serious breach of trust" and the women found it "difficult to escape" from the abuse.

She also noted the evidence that the abuse continued despite a family discussion of it and the "intervention" from a local priest.

Ms Justice Creedon gave Prendergast credit for his ultimate pleas of guilty, noting that it was "an important step in vindicating the victims".

Irish Independent

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