An English businessman who targeted two young sisters while they were being neglected by their mother and moved the family to Ireland to avoid detection has appealed against the severity of the 14-year jail sentence imposed for the rape and sexual assault of his victims.
The 39-year-old man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his victims, was found guilty at the Central Criminal Court in April 2019 following a 42-day trial on three counts of rape and eight counts of sexually assaulting the two girls at addresses in Dublin and Louth between December 3, 2010 and March 10, 2011.
His victims were aged 10 and 12 years at the time of the offences.
The man, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison with two years suspended on condition that he participated in the Better Lives treatment programme for sex offenders, continues to protest his innocence and disputes the jury’s verdict.
In March, he lost an appeal against his conviction on the 11 charges when the Court of Appeal rejected claims that interviews of the girls by specialist gardaí were fundamentally flawed.
Counsel for the man, Caroline Biggs, SC, told the Court of Appeal on Wednesday that the sentencing judge, Mr Justice Michael White, had erred in law and in principle by characterising the conduct of his defence during the trial as an aggravating factor in fixing the term of his sentence.
Ms Biggs said the judge had remarked that the realisation by the older sister that she and her siblings were taken into care because their mother was not able to protect them was “turned into a weapon against her” by the defendant.
The man had instructed his legal team to claim she had conspired with her younger sister to make false allegations of sexual abuse in order to avoid having to return to their mother’s care.
Mr Justice White had stated that the reverse was true as the girl had realised that further contact with their mother endangered her and her sister because the man would come back into their lives.
Ms Biggs said her client was perfectly entitled “to fight tooth and nail” in mounting a defence against the charges.
She told the court the man’s sentence was effectively one of 14 years, as he was unlikely to be able to avail of the suspended period of two years because a condition of participating in the “Better Lives” treatment programme was that a convicted person accepted their guilt.
Ms Biggs claimed such a sentence was disproportionate and failed to take into account mitigating factors in the man’s favour.
She said the offending had taken place over a relatively short space of time compared to many cases of sexual abuse and had lasted “months as opposed to decades”.
The barrister said it was not a case of a father-daughter relationship which would constitute the greatest abuse of trust.
Opposing the appeal, counsel for the DPP, Dominic McGinn SC, said that while cross-examination of witnesses was a necessary part of the case of most defendants, the manner in which the man had approached it constituted an element of the gravity of his offences.
Mr McGinn said the trial judge had pointed out that the accused was having his legal team put a very damaging suggestion to one of his victims in the full knowledge that it was untrue.
Counsel said putting it to the older girl that she had fabricated allegations against the man simply because she did not want to return to her mother’s care and not that when she had actually blamed her for allowing her to be abused was “cynical and pejorative.”
Mr McGinn said the man had had to exercise judgement on how he approached the defence of his case.
He noted that Mr Justice White had pointed out to the man the consequences of taking particular actions and that the judge had indicated he would consider them as aggravating factors.
Mr McGinn said there had to be consequences for putting suggestions he knew to be untrue and extremely damaging to the victim.
He said there were several serious aggravating factors in the case including the fact that the man had set about creating a position where he would have access to the two girls and moving them away from home so they would no longer have access to social services.
The president of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, presiding, with Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy and Ms Justice Máire Whelan, reserved judgement on the appeal.