Defence forces praise ‘bravery’ of woman who exposed the soldier who beat her unconscious

Judge Tom O'Donnell

*Content Warning: Content may trigger trauma for victims of violence*

THE Defence Forces has praised the bravery of Natasha O’Brien who exposed soldier Cathal Crotty as the man who beat her unconscious in an unprovoked random attack in Limerick City two years ago.

Mr Crotty (22), of Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha, County Clare, was convicted of assault causing harm to Ms O’Brien last Wednesday, after he admitted the charge.

Ms O’Brien (24) bravely spoke out afterwards about the impact of the attack. She also criticised the terms of Crotty’s sentence, imposed at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court.

Crotty was given a three-year jail term which was fully suspended and he walked free. Sentencing judge Tom O’Donnell said he had to balance the “appalling” assault with Crotty’s previous good behaviour, his early guilty plea, and that a conviction would, in the judge’s opinion, certainly end his army career.

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When asked for comment, the Defence Forces issued a statement, which read: “The Defence Forces commend the bravery of the victim in this case, and hope for her full recovery from the injuries sustained.”

“The Defence Forces unequivocally condemn any actions by serving personnel that are contrary to or do not reflect our values.

“Any conviction in a civilian court may have implications for the retention and service of members of the Defence Forces, as stipulated in Defence Forces Regulations.

“Once due process has been completed in a civilian court of law it becomes a matter for the relevant Defence Forces authorities in accordance with Defence Forces Regulations. As such it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

The Defence Forces would not comment further, when asked if it planned to or had begun any internal army disciplinary proceedings.

Crotty’s superior at Sarsfield Army Barracks, Commandant Paul Togher, told Crotty’s sentencing hearing that Crotty’s conduct in the forces had always been “exemplary”, “disciplined”, and “professional”, and Crotty had always been “courteous” in his dealings with the senior ranking officer.

Commandant Togher said he was shocked at hearing what Crotty had done to Ms O’Brien.

He said he was “exceptionally disappointed” in Crotty, and “surprised” by his “very out of character” behaviour.

He said he was most disappointed in Crotty because members of the Defence Forces are “expected to keep people safe”.

When asked by Crotty’s barrister, Donal Cronin, if he had been asked by Crotty to come to court on his behalf, Commandant Togher replied that, as a senior army officer, he was officially required as a matter of protocol to attend civilian courts involving members of the Defence Forces.

He explained that this role required him to monitor any legal proceedings and to report back to superior officers on any legal matters that may have “implications” for the future careers of members of the Defence Forces.

Crotty had initially tried to blame innocent victim, Natasha O’Brien, by wrongly telling the Gardaí who arrested him that Ms O’Brien had instigated the attack at O’Connell Street, Limerick, on May 29, 2022.

However, after Gardaí showed Crotty CCTV footage of him setting upon Ms O’Brien without provocation, he admitted his guilt, Limerick Circuit Criminal Court heard.

Hours after the attack, Crotty boasted to friends on Snapchat, “two to put her down, two to put her out”, in reference to striking Ms O’Brien four times.

Crotty, who had been drinking alcohol throughout the evening in question, has never given a full explanation for the attack in which he pulverised Ms O’Brien with up to six punches.

It appeared he had lashed out at Ms O’Brien, of North Circular Road, Limerick, after she and a friend of hers had “politely” asked him to stop shouting “faggot” at other persons in the street, the court heard.

Ms O’Brien, who was not known to Crotty, was walking home with a female friend after working a shift at a pub when he violently assaulted her.

Crotty grabbed Ms O’Brien by her hair and punched her to the ground.

He continued holding her hair with one hand and punching her face with his other first as she lost consciousness on the ground, the court heard.

Ms O’Brien, who sustained a broken nose, bruising, nightmares, and panic attacks afterwards, said she thought Crotty was going to kill her during the attack.

Crotty fled when a male passer-by intervened, however his friends remained at the scene.

In court, Ms O’Brien bravely walked past Crotty to get into the witness box to read a victim impact statement to the court.

“When Cathal Crotty attacked me I went into a state of shock, I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me, I felt completely helpless, feeling like I was being used as a punching bag, I didn’t feel human,” Ms O’Brien told the court.

“As I lay in the foetal position, and loosing consciousness, he continued his relentless beating – my last conscious thought was, ‘he’s not stopping, I’m going to die’.

“The physical injuries I sustained were devastating; a severe concussion, a broken nose, severe swelling, and bruising on both arms, shoulders, head, right upper thigh, left eye, cheek, and jaw.

“I spent the following weeks and months attending hospital and doctor appointments, and due to persistent concussion symptoms I was deemed ‘high–risk’ for a brain bleed, and I received a battery of tests including a head CT scan.

“I lived in constant fear that it could still result in my death. Cathal Crotty’s actions left me in a place of darkness, I have been suffering symptoms of PTSD, and I’ve had to attend multiple therapists since the attack.

“A sense of constant dread and isolation was unlike anything I have ever experienced and I spiralled into self-destructive behaviours and lost all interest and motivation for life.

“Basic tasks at work became incredibly difficult and I ultimately lost my job due to my rapidly declining performance. I became numb and detached from reality, living in perpetual fear of seeing him again.

“He may not remember, but my memory of the vicious sinister look in his eyes as he approached me will haunt me forever.

“I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be here today to have my voice heard, I am lucky to be alive and I believe the male passer-by, who intervened, saved my life.

“I am here to seek justice, not just for myself, but to protect others from violence and malice I experienced.”

Judge O’Donnell wished Ms O’Brien well and asked her if she understood “the significance” of Crotty’s guilty plea in that it had eliminated the necessity for a trial which would have compounded her trauma, and that if Crotty had contested the case, it would have prolonged the case by approximately 18 months.

Ms O’Brien told the judge that while she understood this, she said she had already not only suffered the trauma of the attack, but “two long years of trauma” waiting for the criminal case to conclude.

The court heard Crotty remains a Private solider in the Defence Forces, based at Sarsfield Barracks.

Crotty’s barrister, Junior Counsel Donal Cronin said Crotty, who was accompanied in court by his mother, was “ashamed and embarrassed and offers his apologies to the victim”.

Asking the court not to jail Crotty, the barrister said: “He is at a crossroads in his life, and a custodial sentence will have very serious consequences for his life and his career.”

Judge Tom O’Donnell said Crotty’s actions on the night were “utterly appalling”.

The judge said he had “no doubt” that if he imposed an immediate jail sentence on Crotty, that his army “career is over”.

“He took pride in striking a defenceless female in what was a cowardly, vicious, unprovoked, and totally unnecessary assault,” the judge said.

Judge O’Donnell said Crotty deserved “no credit” for initially trying to deflect blame on Ms O’Brien but that he “must be given credit” for pleading guilty to assaulting Ms O’Brien, causing her harm, contrary to Section 3 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the State Act, which carries a maximum five-year jail sentence.

The judge remarked that he had a “huge judgement call to make” in respect of Crotty’s future.

He said he had to “take into account” that Crotty had no previous convictions; Crotty’s army career; that Crotty pleaded guilty early, which eliminated the necessity for a jury trial and the prolonged use of Garda and court resources; and that a trial would have compounded Ms O’Brien’s trauma.

“In fairness to him, he has come to court and publicly admitted his wrongdoing, and he has made a public acknowledgement of his criminality,” the judge said.

Judge O’Donnell said a headline sentence was “five years” and he imposed a three-year sentence which he suspended in its entirety. He also ordered Crotty to pay €3,000 compensation to Ms O’Brien without prejudice to any potential civil court proceedings.

Speaking afterwards Ms O’Brien criticised the sentence and said: “I lost my job because of his (Crotty’s) actions, because I was so impacted by what he did, but this judge doesn’t want to jail him because it will mean he will loose his job.”

“That’s not justice,” Ms O’Brien said.

Crotty faces the prospect of his suspended jail sentence being activated in its entirely should he reoffend within the next three years.

Ms O’Brien said afterwards that she was glad she used her voice in court and that the public would know what Crotty had done.

However, she criticised the suspended sentence, and that, in her opinion, the court had sent “a message” to Crotty and anyone else that they could attack women in public and not be jailed.

“The lack of justice is horrific, in spite of the seriously appalling cold hard evidence. There was a complete disregard for the gravity of Crotty’s actions.”

Ms Crotty said that, in her opinion, the court “was utterly sympathetic to Crotty, commending him on his guilty plea” and that it had explained that “a full sentence would destroy his career in the Irish defence forces”.

Ms Crotty said she felt “there was no true regard given for the seriousness of his violent crimes nor the lifelong trauma I am now forced to suffer”.

If you have been personally impacted by the details in this article, the following helplines may assist you:

Women’s Aid, 24-hour National Freephone Helpline, available seven days a week, Tel: 1800 341 900 / Email: [email protected]

Men’s Aid, Tel: 01 554 3811 / Web:

Male Advice Line, advice and support for male victims of domestic abuse, Tel: 1800 816 588 / Web:

Garda Confidential Line, Tel: 1800 666 111.