Wexford People

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Tom Humphries coverage shows just how far we have to come


Tom Humphries.

Tom Humphries.

Tom Humphries.

THE country was outraged this week by the two-and-a-half year sentence handed down to a man who groomed and sexually assaulted a teenage girl.

People didn't know where to turn. Many read screaming headlines on tabloid front pages. Words like beast were used to describe the person in question, Tom Humphries, who happens to be a journalist of note.

A seesaw effect occurred as moral indignation and outrage in some newspapers gave way to some shock at bizarre articles from his former employers' the Irish Times, which championed his career in one startlingy brazen article.

Much was made of the leniency of the sentence handed down to a man who sent 16,000 text messages to a girl he met, groomed and had sexual acts with.

The former celebrated sports journalist pleaded guilty to two charges of defilement of a child, and four charges of sexual exploitation, in relation to the teenage girl he had groomed and abused. With remission he will be out in under two years.

Serious questions remain. How could this man's career as a highly regarded sports journalist amount to a fall from grace for which he should receive a more lenient sentence than, say, a truck driver caught for the same crimes?

Should we value people who have climbed the ranks of Irish society more than those who work in run-of-the-mill jobs across the country?

The attachment of status is something which allowed numerous parish priests to continue abusing long after their crimes were known in communities. It is a deep rooted Irish issue which abides.

For this is a man who knew exactly what he was doing. 'Humphries was aware of his wrongdoing,' Judge Karen O'Connor rightly pointed out.

The fact that Humphries and his crimes were exposed as the Harvey Weinstein revelations swirled around us, underlined the importance that society places on individuals, men, in fact.

It also, once again, highlights the need for tougher laws for sexual crimes in this country.

For, despite the criticism of Judge O'Connor for her concurrent sentences, it should be shouted from the rooftops at every opportunity that these sentences are the norm in courtrooms across our nation every week. When I was a court reporter I and my colleagues were often left perplexed and disturbed by sentences given to sex offenders.

NUI Galway law lecturer Tom O'Malley made this point last week when he said the four years Humphries received, which the judge took as a starting point on the defilement offences, were close to the maximum five years she could have applied. A reduction of 18 months from the headline (four-year) sentence was applied, mainly for the guilty plea, belated though it was. He got two years for exploitation.

It took Humphries six years to make these pleas. Imagine the turmoil his victim and her family endured during this time. The court heard that she fell into a deep depression and attempted suicide.

Humphries lost his job. His name is ruined. Yes, this is true, but surely justice should be weighted on the victim's side.

Mr O'Malley said Humphries' previous good record, and other factors, also influenced the reduction. Humphries' intelligence, position in society, and as a GAA mentor, should have been aggravating factors not allowed in mitigation.

Wexford People