Thursday 21 June 2018

Inadequate loner stalked victims from his bedroom

Dubliner Matthew Horan, a reclusive misfit, became the embodiment of every parent's worst nightmare, writes Maeve Sheehan

Matthew Horan: Jailed for exploiting children online
Matthew Horan: Jailed for exploiting children online
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Last Monday night, the windows and front door of a modest terrace house on St John's Crescent in Clondalkin were smashed. It was an unusual act of violence in this quiet corner of the sprawling west Dublin housing estate. People usually keep to themselves and there is rarely any trouble, said one neighbour. But earlier that day, the young man, 26-year-old Matthew Horan, who lived here with his widowed father, had pleaded guilty in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to exploiting children, stalking them on social media, pretending to be their friend, and eventually coercing and extorting from them explicit photographs and videos.

At his sentencing hearing last Friday, Horan's barrister told Judge Martin Nolan about the attack. "That is most unfortunate," said the judge. A short time later, Horan rose to his feet behind the glass-partitioned dock and assumed a penitent pose - legs slightly apart, head bowed, eyes downcast and hands clasped in front. He maintained this position, more or less, for the duration of the hearing. Apart from a couple of sideways glances, he never raised his eyes. The only discernible movement was the occasional tensing of his clean-shaven jaw. He wore glasses, a round-neck burgundy jumper over a white shirt, and dark blue trousers - the embodiment of every parent's nightmare, the wolf in sheep's clothing.

Horan grew up in Clondalkin, managing to leave little imprint on the local community. One family who live close by said they never set eyes on him until they saw his photograph in the newspaper. Staff at a local shop could not place him either. The sparse facts that emerged about Horan during his court appearances included the death of his mother when he was three, which left his father "adrift", which in turn had an effect on his childhood.

When Horan left school in 2009, he did nothing except stay in his bedroom and use his computer. It seems he stayed in his bedroom for the next eight years, a "perpetual loner" who lived what his barrister called a "dingy" existence.

That was in the real world. On the internet, he was a swaggering "sick f***".

"Yo, wanna see some child porn?" he typed in the anonymous messaging app Kik, sending on graphic images and also using Instagram and Snapchat. He recorded Skype calls to two nine-year-old girls and a 12-year-old, and had footage of two of the children engaging in sexual acts. He conversed with them explicitly. When one child resisted his demands for explicit photographs, he threatened to circulate other nude images of her to her friends. In text messages recovered by gardai, the girl repeatedly told Horan she would kill herself. Horan continued to force her. He exchanged sexual fantasies with the father of another nine-year-old girl - about that man's daughter. "We're just two sick f***s who are totally cool with being sick f***s."

In 2016, the US authorities traced a Gmail address to Ireland that was used to exchange child pornography and sent it to An Garda Siochana. The Garda's cybercrime unit tracked the address to St John's Crescent, where detectives found a trove of child pornography, thousands of images, videos and more than 6,000 animated child porn cartoons. Some of the images involved babies. Horan admitted his crimes to gardai and offered up passwords to the computers and other devices they seized after searching his home. After he was charged and released on bail awaiting trial, Horan continued to use child pornography on a new mobile phone. Gardai seized that too, along with some new USB sticks. In all, Horan had lured in 15 children, six in Ireland whom gardai had identified, and nine unknown users abroad.

Before his sentencing last Friday, Judge Nolan said Horan was a "pretty inadequate" individual, who had a "pretty lonely life" and was incapable of establishing relationships. A psychological report said Horan met the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder, and explained how fixated interests may "reduce anxiety" or "relax" people on the autism spectrum.

Child pornography may have been Horan's "obsessive fixation". This didn't mean he didn't know what he was doing, the judge said. Horan understood the nature of what he was doing and didn't stop. He had a "pretty debased interest in sex", and "a debased and insidious interest in children", whom he exploited for his own ends.

Horan's actions have had devastating consequences. One of the children wrote a victim impact statement for the judge describing her feelings of shame and fear. "I feel scared because I had told him where I live and I was scared he was going to come and get me," she wrote.

In another victim impact statement, a father described with utter helplessness how his daughter had bought her Samsung mobile phone with her communion money to watch cartoons. He was in "absolute shock" when gardai contacted him about his daughter. They showed him an image of her and he described "feeling sick to the pit" of his stomach.

The mother of another child said her body started to shake and her blood started to boil when she found out, and she will never get over what happened.

Judge Nolan jailed Horan for nine-and-a-half years, with two years suspended, on charges that included child exploitation and the production and distribution of child pornography. He asked the Probation Services to look into available treatments so that Horan might be "reformed" because at some point he will get out of prison and return to the community. "It is important for everybody, including society at large, and for Mr Horan, that some attempt is made to reform him," he said.

Francis Timmons, an independent local councillor in Clondalkin, said the local community was angry. "Justice must and has been done through the courts. People are really angry that such awful and vile behaviour has happened in our community," he said. "There are many young families in the area and people are very protective of their children and there is no room for tolerance of abuse."

The Garda investigation into Horan's online world of paedophile predators continues. The investigation is focusing on Horan's online paedophile friends, specifically the father who discussed with Horan how he would abuse his own child.

Sunday Independent

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