The sentencing hearing took place at the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
ONE of the child victims in the Munster sexual abuse case has said he thinks his parents and other family members who abused him should go to jail “for a long time”.
In a victim impact statement which he prepared for the Central Criminal Court sentencing hearing, the eldest boy, who is now a teenager, wrote: “What happened at home changed my whole life.”
“What happened to me and my brothers and sister should have never happened to no child. I'm trying to get over what happened for years,” he said. He said it was not normal for a child to have to go to court and “stand up for what was the truth”.
He said that until he joined his foster family, he never knew what a normal life was like.
“I'm clean and I'm happy and I'm never hungry and not afraid to go to sleep. I think my old family should go to jail for a long time for what they put me and my brothers and sister through,” he wrote, adding that they should not be near children again.
The statement was one of several victim impact statements read out in court this Monday by the lead investigator in the case. None of the children were in court for the hearing.
The five children's parents and three other family members were found guilty of all but one of the 78 counts against them following a 10-week trial that took place between May and August last year.
The three men and two women, who cannot be named to protect the anonymity of the children, were found guilty of sexually abusing three of the children between 2014 and 2016. They are the parents, aunt and uncles of the children. They range in ages from 27 to 57.
All of the offences took place in Munster on unknown dates between August 2014 and April 2016.
The parents were also found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of their children while the father was found guilty of mistreating three of them by giving them medication. All of the defendants denied all of the charges against them.
Extensive reporting restrictions are in place to protect the welfare and identities of the children, who were taken into care in 2016. They were aged between one and nine at the time of the offending.
The eldest boy's younger sister and brother, who were also sexually abused, also wrote brief victim impact statements for the court.
The girl wrote: “They ruined my childhood and didn't even care about me. I wasn't loved when I was younger.” The brother wrote: “I (didn't) feel safe about them not being in prison. I had no happy childhood.”
The children's three sets of foster parents wrote lengthy statements in which they outlined the numerous challenges they have encountered in trying to help the children recover from their traumatic early childhood.
They described how the children arrived with only the clothes on their backs, filthy dirty and covered in faeces with various scars and bruises and no toileting skills.
The eldest boy's foster mother said he had suffered a “horrendous childhood” at the hands of those who should have been loving and caring for him.
She said that when the guilty verdicts came in, he told them he was “so happy that he was believed”, that his relatives were in jail and that they would never be allowed to contact him again.
He has more confidence and a “spring in his step” since the guilty verdicts, the foster mother said. She described him in loving terms as a “beautiful, handsome boy” who they are proud to have in their family.
The foster mother of the girl and second eldest boy said they were also very happy with the verdicts. She said they “finally now feel safe” and have “expressed a wish to just have a normal life”.
This foster mother described at length the numerous difficulties the two children have suffered since coming to live with her family, including behavioural and health issues.
She listed a long line of health professionals and therapists they have seen and continue to see regularly. She paid tribute to the hard work the children have put in to try and make up for their lost early childhood.
The foster mother described how when they first arrived in her home, the children regularly hid in the hot press, under the stairs or under tables and that they never asked for food. “We think that hunger was so normal in their lives, they were unable to identify or address their own hunger needs.”
She said both children “slept with one eye open” and suffered from terrible, recurring nightmares, including one where their parents were trying to break into the house in the dark and hurt them. She said that after they installed extra security in the house, the children were less fearful.
The foster mother to the two youngest boys also installed extra security to their home, which she said was done out of “genuine fears for the safety of the children”. She said that there had been incidents where cars containing unknown occupants pulled up outside their home and they were “worried sick” that the children would be taken.
This foster mother also outlined behavioural difficulties and therapies the children have received. She said that one of the boys in particular is extremely tense at night and it is only in the last year and a half that he has stopped jolting upright when she checks on him at night.
She said that after access visits to their parents were stopped, neither child ever asked to see them again.
The inspector in the case outlined the details of the evidence that was heard at trial last year. The trial heard from more than 30 witnesses, including the children themselves, social and family support workers, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals and gardaí.
The court heard the family was on Tusla's radar as far back as 2011, but intervention was only stepped up in 2014, when a number of files were opened on the family.
The court heard the children were eventually taken into care 20 months later, after the father admitted to a social worker that he had been medicating the children to get them to sleep.
A sixth child was born after the children were taken into care in what was described as a concealed pregnancy. This baby was also removed from the family home.
The parents, uncles and aunt have been in custody since last August when the verdicts were handed down. They were all present in court for the sentence hearing. They remained expressionless as the victim impact statements were read out.
The court heard that they continue to maintain their innocence. Mark Nicholas SC, defending the father, said that despite this stance, the father has gained “enormous satisfaction” from learning that his children are now happy.
The court heard the father (57) has a mild intellectual disability and was found to be in the borderline range of intellectual functioning.
Dean Kelly SC, defending the mother (34), said her childhood was happy enough but it was marred by violence, which was commonplace in the home. She also has a mild intellectual disability.
Mr Kelly submitted that while male sex offenders are imprisoned in sexual offender units, there is no segregation in female prisons. As a result, she is confined to her room for most of the day for her own safety, he said.
Andrew Sammon SC, defending the mother's sister (35) said she also has limited intellectual functioning.
Andrew Sexton SC, defending her 49-year-old husband, said the fact his wife has also been incarcerated is an additional punishment for him, as they have only had one contact via video call since the verdicts were handed down last year.
Conor Devally SC, defending the children's 27-year-old uncle, said he has been employed his entire adult life.
None of the family members have any previous convictions, except for two minor road traffic offences, the court heard.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott adjourned the matter for finalisation on January 18.
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