Court hears of ‘online grooming’ of teenage girl

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

A 14-YEAR-OLD girl said she would prefer to see a man who sexually assaulted her put behind bars rather than accept compensation.

A 14-YEAR-OLD girl said she would prefer to see a man who sexually assaulted her put behind bars rather than accept compensation.

Owen O’Donoghue, 39, of Fairgreen, Garryowen, was jailed for 10 months, with the last six months suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting the friend of one his children at his family home last year.

Limerick District Court heard that O’Donoghue had also posted “graphic and explicit” content on the girl’s Facebook page.

The victim was 13 when the assault, which took the form of inappropriate touching and fondling, took place at O’Donoghue’s home on June 10, 2011.

Before Judge Eugene O’Kelly, the girl’s mother gave evidence that the incident had “split up her circle of friends” and that its effect on her has been “horrendous”.

“The nightmares are unreal and she says she can still feel him breathing down her neck. How could somebody do this to a child? She trusted him. She has known him since she was a baby,” said the mother.

She described one incident where her daughter had jumped into a bunch of nettles when she saw O’Donoghue approaching on the street.

O’Donoghue’s solicitor Chris Lynch said the first thing his client wished to do was to express his “most profound regret”. As a father-of-three, O’Donoghue should have had greater insight into the damage his actions would cause.

“He is at a loss to explain his loss of control,” said Mr Lynch.

Judge O’Kelly described the sexual assault as “an extremely serious breach of trust” in that the victim, as a friend of one of his children, was a frequent visitor to O’Donoghue’s home. What aggravated matters, the judge said, was that it appeared to have been “more than a momentary lapse” in that there was evidence of online grooming.

“We are told that her sister noticed content on her Facebook page which was graphic and explicit, so explicit in fact that she may not have been able to understand some of the references.”

The investigating garda believed “he may have been involved in grooming” his victim and this put it into the “serious category”, the judge said.

Judge O’Kelly said this kind of offence “almost inevitably attracted a custodial sentence” but he also had to weigh mitigating factors such as O’Donoghue’s early plea, previous good record and “industrious” work history as a barman in Limerick.

Judge O’Kelly asked the victim whether she was interested in receiving compensation from O’Donoghue to fund her studies, which in no way was to be taken as a suggestion that he could “buy off” a prison sentence.

“She wants him to go to prison; she doesn’t want his money,” the mother said.

After the sentence was handed down, the girl’s mother expressed her upset and what she regarded at its leniency.

“No wonder there’s so many sex offenders walking around the place, I don’t understand the system. I honestly can’t. There’s no justice,” she told reporters.

O’Donoghue is to appeal the sentence.