A BARMAN who sexually assaulted his child’s 14-year-old friend while they were alone in the house has had the entirety of a 10-month prison sentence suspended on appeal.
Judge Carroll Moran said evidence that 40-year-old Owen O’Donoghue had sent his victim “inappropriate Facebook and text messages with clear sexual connotations” both before and after the assault aggravated matters.
But he had to factor in O’Donoghue’s previous good record, his admissions of guilt and the “fact that he will suffer considerable punishment anyway by way of social disgrace”.
At an appeal hearing at Limerick Circuit Court, state solicitor Michael Murray said the sexual assault had taken place at O’Donoghue’s home at Fairgeen, Mulgrave Street on June 10, 2011, shortly after he had sent other young teenagers in the house to the shop. It had involved the accused inappropriately touching her thighs and waist, trying to kiss her and sitting her on his lap.
Mr Murray set out O’Donoghue’s use of what he described as “classic grooming tactics” by sending sexually suggestive messages to the victim on Facebook and on her mobile phone.
In a statement to gardai, the girl said these messages included Valentine’s Day greetings to her and a number of her friends, while another message sent to the victim read that she “would have to be spanked”.
Subsequent to the assault, on August 13, 2011, the victim had received a Facebook message from O’Donoghue suggesting they should “get bould together”. Another message had read “I need a bit of excitement”.
The girl had also described to gardai how O’Donoghue would touch other girls in the circle of friends “on the bum”, “would give us hugs and call us names like ‘Baby Bops’”. When she later realised what his behaviour had meant, she began to avoid Owen O’Donoghue, describing how on one occasion she had hid in a bunch of nettles when she saw him approach.
“I reference these text messages and Facebook messages,” Mr Murray told Judge Moran “to show that the physical actions of the appellant were not playful but were sinister.”
Dr John Bogue, a forensic psychologist, appeared as an expert witness for the defence and told Mark Nicholas BL that from his first interaction with the accused, O’Donoghue knew that “what he did was 100% wrong and was not a trivial offence”.
Dr Bogue believed it was significant that having been made aware of the criminal proceedings, the HSE had not sought to impose restrictions on the access O’Donoghue, who is separated, had to his three teenage children.
He had told Dr Bogue that since his original conviction in the District Court was covered by the media, he had been abused in the street, his car had been attacked. The fact that he was also in a stable intimate relationship with a mature female would indicate he had “no entrenched paedophilic interests”, Dr Bogue said.
Mr Murray said he had instructions that O’Donoghue was not, in fact, in any relationship. He also took issue with the psychologist over the latter’s assertion that O’Donoghue had not used the “classic trivialisation manoeuvres” of paedophiles. His Garda interviews contained several “self-serving” answers the “tenor of which was ‘I wasn’t doing anything wrong and I was only being nice’”, Mr Murray said.
Mr Nicholas told Judge Moran that even if his appeal were to succeed, O’Donoghue was “certainly not getting off scot-free” given the publicity the case had generated and his placement on the Sex Offenders Register.
Judge Eugene O’Kelly had imposed a sentence of 10 months in the District Court, suspending the final six months.
Judge Moran said that the “premature sexualisation of young teenagers” as evident in O’Donoghue’s behaviour was “quite wrong”. But he ruled it would be just in the circumstances to suspend the entirety of the sentence for two years, a condition of that suspension being that he have no unsupervised contact with any children under the age of 18 save his own.