A Co Leitrim man has been jailed for three years for the repeated rape of his sister in the early 1990s.
The man, who cannot be named to protect his sister’s anonymity, was aged around 16 at the time of the offences and was in charge of babysitting his younger sister, then aged 10 or 11.
At a trial at the Central Criminal Court in March, the 43-year-old man denied five charges of rape and one of sexual assault at the family home on dates between May 1991 and June 1993.
He was convicted on all charges by unanimous verdict of the jury.
Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, told the court that although the man accepted that the jury had returned a verdict and that he must live by it, he was making no admissions to the crimes.
He has no previous convictions.
The court heard that the victim secretly recorded a family meeting at which she confronted her brother about raping her when they were children.
Excerpts of her phone recording were played to the jury during the trial, in which he expressed apologies to his sister but did not make specific admissions.
In her ruling today, Ms Justice Tara Burns noted that the accused man had “accepted wrongdoing of some sexual nature” but did not follow through with an admission of guilt, instead choosing to put his sister and his family through a trial.
The judge remarked that it was “heart-breaking” to watch the mother of both the accused and the complainant “literally crumble” as she gave her evidence.
“His sister would not have gone to the guards had he acknowledged his guilt. This is a decision he will have to live with,” added Ms Justice Burns.
She set a headline sentence of nine years for the anal rapes and eight years for the oral rape. Taking into account the fact that the accused was aged 16 at the time of the offences, she reduced the headline sentences to five years for the anal rapes, four years for the oral rape and two years for the sexual assault charge.
Ms Justice Burns then suspended the final two years of each sentence, outlining further mitigating factors including the man’s strong work history, his significant involvement with the GAA and what she described as his “impressive” character references.
The judge said aggravating factors in the case included the extremely serious nature of the offences and the “grievous” breach of the trust placed in the accused by his parents when they left him babysitting his three younger sisters.
She said the family had been going through a time of particular upheaval and distress with the temporary separation of their parents and that the accused had taken advantage of this. She said the victim had been left out of the sibling bond with her sisters and that the accused had also “seized upon and exploited this”.
A local garda told Pauline Walley SC, prosecuting, that the man abused his sister in the family home while their parents were out working.
The garda said the woman made her statement in 2015 after tensions between her brother and other family members went unresolved. The garda said the family found out about the allegations following a confrontation between the woman, her brother and his wife in early 2013.
After this, there was a family meeting at which the man said he couldn’t recall the abuse. He denied the allegations when his wife joined the group on that occasion.
Some of the family who were at this meeting, including their mother, gave evidence about this at the trial.
The man’s father told the jury he met his son on a separate occasion in 2015. When the man said he had “done wrong” to his sister, his father said he took this to be an admission of sexual abuse.
In her victim impact statement, which she read in court, the woman described how she had tried to resolve the issue within the family for nearly three years before going to Gardaí.
She said all she had wanted was an acknowledgement from her brother of his wrongdoing, but that he had chosen to put his family on the witness stand in court.
The woman said had he acknowledged the abuse when it first came to light in 2013, she could have forgiven him. She said it was the “hardest” decision to go to the gardaí, but when she did she “never felt better” about herself.
The woman thanked her husband, family, gardaí, the prosecution team and judge and jury for believing in her and helping her find the strength to get through the trial. She paid special tribute to the Victim Support at Court team for providing a “haven” where “nobody judges you.”
Mr O’Higgins outlined to Justice Burns his client’s long work history and his involvement with sports and his local community. He handed in character references describing the man as “kind and hospitable”, “industrious” and “honest”.