Sunday 24 March 2019

Woman sexually abused by father as child awarded €2.2m in damages

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Tim Healy

A jury has awarded €2.2m in High Court damages to a woman against her father who carried out horrific sexual abuse on her when she was aged between four and six.

The woman, now in her 30s, also claimed her father, who said the abuse never happened, facilitated similar abuse by neighbours and others both in the family home and in other houses in their area.

She claimed that, as a result, she suffered serious psychological and emotional damage throughout her life.

After a six day trial, the jury of ten men and two women took around six hours  to reach the verdict that her father did commit an act or acts of sexual abuse resulting in injury and damage to her.

It assessed general damages at €1.6m and aggravated damages at €600,000.

Mr Justice Michael McGrath thanked the members of the jury and excused them from having to serve in a civil trial for ten years. 

The judge gave a decree for €2.2m plus costs against the father who is a retired public servant and was represented in the case under the free legal aid scheme.

The woman, who cannot be named by order of the court, let out a brief cry when the verdict was announced. She was accompanied by her partner and another woman and had been accompanied throughout the trial by friends and social workers. 

The father sat motionless and was alone as he had been throughout the trial.

He had denied any of the events ever happened. He said he had not asked any of the named people also accused of the abuse to give evidence on his behalf because they would have been "absolutely horrified" at having to come to court.

The woman told the court the abuse happened in the 1980s until her mother took her and her sister to a women's refuge.

The children were later put into foster care after the woman told social workers her mother also abused her. Her mother ended up in a psychiatric institution three years later.

The court heard that two years after they left the family home, when she was eight, she gave a statement to gardai outlining the alleged abuse. A file was sent to the DPP who decided not to prosecute because, the court heard, the children were too young.

That statement outlined how her father would take her out of her bedroom at night to a spare room, which she remembered had green wallpaper. He used a particular pet name and the word "fondie" (for a kiss) which was when she knew the abuse was about to start.

The abuse also occurred in the sitting room, nearby houses and in his car. 

She said he threatened her and her sister and mother and used a bamboo to hit her and sexually abuse her.

She said she was forced to watch pornographic videos and remembered one man videoing the abuse in another house.

She remembered him holding her by the hand as "he brought me to other men's houses" where he introduced them to her as "uncle" and to women, who she said also abused her, as "aunt". 

She remembered being in pain as a result of the abuse and being unable to go to the toilet because of it for days afterwards.

She grew up in foster care including time as a teenager in a home where she witnessed young girls engaging in acts of self harm.

At 18, she had a son who she had to hand over to her foster parents because she was unable to cope due to her continuing trauma, including not being able to change the baby's nappy.

A young man she fell in love in her 20s with died from sudden adult death syndrome and this caused her more distress. She held down a number of different jobs until she eventually got a job as a receptionist, which she continues to do.

After seeing her father by chance in 2009, she decided to go to the gardai and make a complaint herself as an adult. But again the DPP decided there would be no prosecution.

At that stage, she decided the only way to make her father responsible was to bring the High Court civil proceedings.

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