A FORMER Church of Ireland lay minister has been sentenced to five months in prison at Limerick District Court after images of child pornography - some “at the most severe end of the scale” - were recovered from his computer.
Sentencing 61-year-old Gerard Fitzgerald, of Grianan, Westbury, Judge Eugene O’Kelly said it was particularly concerning that the accused had sought out work as a school caretaker “when he had certain appetites regarding child pornography”.
Fitzgerald - who has since resigned as a caretaker at St Michael’s National School, Pery Square - denied knowingly having in his possession 13 images of child pornography at his home on March 19, 2010.
Retired Detective Garda Martin Hogan, formerly of the Garda computer crime investigation unit, gave evidence of having taken possession of a computer seized by gardai at Fitzgerald’s home on that date.
Thirteen images of child pornography were found, Det Garda Hogan said, through examining the cache of Windows MediaPlayer. They had been in a documents file under the user profile name “ger”. File metadata indicated they had been created on the computer on October 10, 2009 and had been most recently viewed on March 15, 2010. They may have been viewed “hundreds of times or not at all” in the intervening months, Det Garda Hogan said.
While there were no images found on the hard drive, Det Garda Hogan explained that Windows MediaPlayer retained a trace in the cache of what images had been viewed with that programme.
“That programme retains a history of images you have viewed and it was in this history area that I found these files. This suggests to me that these images may have been on the computer at some time but the original images had been deleted,” he said. Another possibility is that they may have been imported into the computer from a CD or external device, Det Garda Hogan went on to say.
Garda Niall Fitzgerald read into the court record two interviews the accused had given to gardai, one in which he admitted to viewing child pornography.
He admitted to having seen six of the 13 images he was shown by investigating gardai, most of which depicted naked children, but denied ever having seen the more graphic images - involving penetrative and oral sex with children as young as six.
“I admit I browsed the web for pornography, including bestiality. I find it interesting and intriguing how low people can go, the depths of depravity,” Mr Fitzgerald had told gardai.
He said he had viewed the images out of curiosity and not for reasons of sexual gratification as he himself had been sexually abused as a child.
Mark Nicholas BL, defending, said that while his client freely admitted having viewed some of the images, the case was being contested on the basis that they were not in readily accessible locations but hidden in a cache which would be difficult for somebody like his client - who was “not very computer literate” - to recover. His client couldn’t be seen to be “knowingly in possession” of the images on March 19, 2010 as he had never saved them on to his computer and was “not in control of where or how he could access them”.
This was not one of those cases where an accused person had “hundreds of thousands of images stored on a computer through a deliberate and unambiguous act of saving into a named file or disk drive for later retrieval”, Mr Nicholas said.
But Judge O’Kelly said that while Fitzgerald was “being portrayed as somebody with little knowledge of computers”, it was noteworthy that his interviews with gardai showed a level of knowledge of what temporary internet folders were and that “specific forensic software could wipe histories”.
“He himself has admitted that he downloaded these images in order to enlarge them and admitted downloading them into a file he rather curiously called ‘Papist Humour’. He acknowledged he had seen images which in his opinion were less offensive but denied having seen the more obscenely graphic images, protesting rather unconvincingly that they didn’t ‘ring a bell’,” Judge O’Kelly said.
He had to consider the evidence of Det Garda Hogan, who said that while the quantity of images were small, their content was “at the most severe end of the scale”.
Mr Fitzgerald sat impassively as he was sentenced to five months in prison. Judge O’Kelly consented to an application by Inspector Seamus Ruane to have the accused placed on the sex offenders register for five years.
Leave to appeal was granted with recognizances fixed at €1000.