Former child protection officer jailed for sexual assault on 13-year-old granddaughter

Ennis courthouse
Ennis Courthouse

A 69-YEAR-OLD retired school child protection officer admitted to Gardaí that he sexually assaulted his then 13-year-old granddaughter after Saint Anthony told him to tell the truth, a court has heard.

At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Francis Comerford imposed a two year and six month prison sentence on the retired school teacher with the final six months suspended.

The man pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the secondary school pupil while the two were watching a horror movie at his County Clare home on May 21, 2021.

In a powerful victim impact statement, the Limerick girl – now aged 16 – said in court that the man had been like “a second father’ to her.

St Anthony spoke back

In a WhatsApp message to the girl’s mother, also the man’s daughter, two days after committing the sexual assault in May 2021, the accused said that he spent hours sitting in a church that day and said that someone told him to talk to St Anthony.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

The man said that he lit a candle for his granddaughter and St Anthony “eventually spoke back”.

“He said I must tell the truth. ‘You are sick and need help and telling lies will not help you and will make your granddaughter’s suffering even worse’,” he told the court.

He told his daughter in the WhatsApp message: “I am ashamed of what I have done. Don’t ask me why it happened. I don’t know.”

“I now have to face the consequences of my depraved and disgusting behaviour – if that means going to prison, that will be where I will get the help I need”.

“I am truly sorry. I have ruined her life. I am ashamed and physically sick for that. I will do everything to right the wrongs I have done. I love you all. Please don’t give up on me. I’m sure the Gardaí will be in touch with you.”

‘This man was my second father’

The man wept openly in court as his granddaughter read out her victim impact statement and recalled the close bond the two had prior to him sexually assaulting her.

“He was the man to pull crackers with at Christmas but always let us win. He was the man who would help me with my maths homework,” she said.

“He was the man who pushed me to go on to the secondary school I am in today. He was the man who made me pancakes in the morning. He was the man I screamed songs with in the car. He was the man who loved listening to me talk about nothing.

“He was the man who brought us for ice-cream before dinner. He was the man who booked the holiday in the summertime. He was the man who said ‘I love you’ at the end of every phone call. He was the man who sang ‘happy birthday’ to me when I woke up. He was the man who protected me from my bullies. He was the man who taught me right from wrong. He was the man I called my grandfather.”

“He was the man who sexually assaulted me on the 21st of May 2021. This man was my second father. I was meant to be safe in his presence. He was meant to protect me.”

“I trusted him unconditionally as he was a teacher, a child protection officer – he was my go to person. He was my grandfather. My whole life was flipped upside down because the man I knew was never the man I thought he was.”

‘I miss the girl I was’

She further stated “How I gave my heart to a man who broke every boundary without a care in the world … I miss the girl I was … I don’t feel normal anymore. I hate him for what he did. I hope for the day that I can feel clean and free from him”.

In a letter of apology previously sent to the victim and read out in court, the accused said that was he was truly ashamed of taking advantage of his granddaughter and of his selfish, mindless, and degrading behaviour.

“I was your go to person on difficult problems, your maths mentor, your school advisor, your TikTok soul, your pancake maker – I have taken your trust and destroyed it. I will think of you every day – I will always love you,” he wrote.

In a letter of apology to the victim’s sister, the accused said that “as a school child protection officer, I have seen first-hand what something like this does to families”.

Imposing sentence on the man, Judge Comerford said that as a former child protection officer the accused would have had insight into the harm he was doing and that this was an aggravating factor in the case.

Judge Comerford said that he was satisfied that the sexual assault wasn’t premeditated or calculated and was an impulsive crime, and that he was treating the assault in the mid-range of offending as it was carried out by someone in a position of trust.

Judge Comerford said that a hugely aggravating factor in the case was the vulnerably of the victim as she trusted the accused implicitly.

Counsel for the accused, Yvonne Quinn BL, said that a probation report on her client concluded that he was at low risk of reoffending.

Ms Quinn said that her client had presented himself to Gardaí on a voluntary basis and, during the course of being interviewed, gave a full and frank account.

Ms Quinn said that her client “was so sorry that he had ruined his granddaughter’s life. He accepts fully and wholeheartedly the complainant’s version of events”.

Ms Quinn said that what occurred was “completely out of character. He was never in trouble before and had no previous convictions.”

The accused’s wife and victim’s grandmother left the man immediately after his offence was admitted.

Ms Quinn said that her client “has lost his wife, lost his children, lost his grand-children, his marriage, and family home”.