Sunday 18 February 2018

In an extraordinary move, several jury members joined relatives outside, hugging them wordlessly


RELIEF and emotion shining in their faces, family members gathered together outside the courtroom and embraced tightly.

Five-and-a-half years after this appalling case first came to light, it is now over and they can finally get on with their lives.

Then, in a most extraordinary and highly unusual move that showed just how terribly difficult this trial has been for all involved, several members of the jury joined the family, hugging them wordlessly.

"Thank you very much," an aunt of the victim whispered to them over and over.

"I've never seen that happen before," said Deirdre Kenny from the One in Four organisation, as she watched the jury in wonderment. She had been providing support for the victim and his family throughout the course of the trial.

Then social commentator Nell McCafferty, who had been in court for the brief hearing, approached the victim to say a few kind words in private.

The heavy-set young man, who is still just 20 years old, spoke shyly and with some hesitation.

He was just thankful it was all over, he said. It had been a very difficult ordeal to have to sit through the trial and recall everything again.

"I can get on with my own life now," he said.

He was "happy enough" with the 14-year sentence handed down to his father, who had abused him with acts of unspeakable violation throughout his childhood.

He had not, in fact, had a childhood, as he told the court last Monday in his poignant victim impact statement.

He and his siblings had been half-starved, filthy dirty and had very quickly realised that they were "different" from other children, who had nice lunches in school and who looked forward to going home and "going places with their parents". He, on the other hand, had nothing to look forward to.

What was shocking was that these terrible events had occurred in the last decade and not way back in the grim and distant past.

The victim's brother, too, was happy with the sentence, having just called on his mobile phone. He hadn't yet told any of his other siblings.

Asked about the HSE report on his family's case, due to be published next month, the victim simply said: "Hopefully it will help other children."

The hearing yesterday had been brief and to the point.

Mr Justice Barry White did not mince his words as the 52-year-old father of six stood before him in a blue striped jumper.

The jury had found him guilty of "systematic sexual abuse" of his eldest son between April 2001 and June 2004, raping him orally and anally and sexually assaulting him from the ages of 12 to 15.

What was "all the more reprehensible" was that he had done so as head of the family in an "appalling breach of trust".

The judge told the convicted man that although the victim impact statement concerned many matters relating to family life that would appal all right-minded people and he must have condoned this conduct in the family home, these were not matters that he could have regard to. They related to another case before another court, and in relation to another person.

For a flicker of a moment, the father gave a momentary start of surprise at the 14-year sentence handed down to him.

But that was all.

He showed no emotion, no remorse and never sought to look at his eldest son as he was led away after the hearing.

This justice had been a long time coming.

Irish Independent

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