| 11.2°C Dublin

Fury as exchange pupil's 'kidnapper' escapes jail term

SENATOR and children's rights activist Jillian Van Turnhout said she is "stunned" after a man who abducted and imprisoned an 11-year-old German exchange student was not jailed.

Dr Thomas Pfeiffer (51), an unmarried native of Berlin, Germany, with an address at Meadowview, Coolfin in Portlaw, Co Waterford, walked free yesterday, despite being found guilty of two counts of false imprisonment and one count of abducting the schoolboy who believed he would be staying with a host family while on an exchange trip here in 2009.


Pfeiffer spent just seven weeks in prison prior to his sentencing after a jury found him guilty in December.

Judge Pauline Codd gave the academic a three-year suspended sentence at the Circuit Criminal Court in Waterford for what she described as an "unusual and bizarre case" which was deeply upsetting for the boy and has left him wary and fearful of people.

The boy spent two nights at Pfeiffer's home where he made him perform a bizarre regime of physical exercises, including jumping jacks, push ups and sits-ups until the point of exhaustion. Pfeiffer then weighed and measured the boy.

He was also made to sleep in a restricted sleeping bag, described as a straitjacket. Pfeiffer also made the boy do language tests.

The court also heard how Pfeiffer – who holds a doctorate in engineering and worked as a researcher at the Waterford Institute of Technology – masqueraded online as a woman named Barbara O'Neill and a man called Tom Cahill as part of a one-man operation in which he advertised host families on the internet for foreign students coming to Ireland to learn English.

He used both ficticious names while he was making arrangements for the boy to stay with a host family in Tramore, Co Waterford for five months, which was legitimate.

But the boy never stayed with the family after he contacted his mother by phone when Pfeiffer handed him over to the host family and he disclosed his ordeal.

Judge Codd said the court will never know the motives behind the case, which she described as "a very unusual case" and on "the higher end of the lower scale" of similar offences.


She then released Pfeiffer on condition that he be of good behaviour for three years and not be involved in programmes involving children.

But Senator Van Turnhout said the sentence imposed on Pfeiffer doesn't reflect the seriousness of the charges and she urged the boy's parents to appeal it. "There are severe ramifications for this child," she told the Herald.

"I'd also have a concern of a sentence like that without any psychiatric assessment," she said. "It sends out all the wrong signals. I'm stunned that that's the response of the courts that are supposed to uphold child protection."

Pfeiffer made no comment.