Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Declan Brennan

A former RTÉ journalist who sexually assaulted a woman while she was sleeping has been jailed for 15 months.

Mícheál Ó Leidhin (38) of Sunnyside, Malahide Road, Artane was convicted last April of sexual assault at his former home in south Dublin in the early hours of the morning of May 13th, 2018.

Ó Leidhin, a native of Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, had denied the offence but his lawyers told a sentence hearing earlier this month at the Central Criminal Court that he now accepts the verdict of the jury.

Sentencing him on Tuesday, Ms Justice Karen O’Connor agreed with a defence application to stay the sentence until next Monday, August 1st, when Ó Leidhin is to present himself at Mountjoy Prison.

The judge said that Ó Leidhin “has accepted the verdict but not the import of the verdict and this is relevant when asked to consider remorse”. She said the complainant had given “compelling” evidence of the ongoing trauma she suffered in the wake of the assault.

She handed down a sentence of 18 months and suspended the final three months on a number of conditions. A female supporter of Ó Leidhin broke down in tears after the sentence was handed down.

Night out

At a previous sentence hearing, Garda Niall Freyne told Michael Delaney SC, prosecuting, that the complainant, who is legally entitled to anonymity, was out drinking in a Dublin pub with a female friend when they met the defendant who knew her friend.

The group went on to another pub and the woman and Ó Leidhin were kissing. At the end of the night, Ó Leidhin asked the woman to go back to his flat in south Dublin and they got a taxi there.

In the flat they were kissing and Ó Leidhin engaged in consensual sexual foreplay type activity. Ó Leidhin suggested they have penetrative sex. The woman said no but left open the possibility that they could do this the next morning, Mr Delaney told the court.

The woman then fell asleep and woke later to find Ó Leidhin on top of her and groping her breasts. She said she told him to stop and get off her. He did stop at this point.

The court heard that she was annoyed and told the defendant that she was clearly asleep.

The woman said she went back to sleep. Later that night Ó Leidhin drove her home and over the following days she texted him expressing annoyance at what had happened.

He met up with her and they spoke for an hour and “agreed to differ” about what had happened, Gda Freyne said. Nearly a year later in April 2019, the woman went to gardaí and made a complaint of sexual assault.

Suspended

The following July, Ó Leidhin met with gardaí and said that after falling asleep together he had woken up and started to kiss the woman and got on top of her.  He said he had tried to wake her up and when she did wake up, she was annoyed at what he was doing while she was still asleep.

He told gardaí that he told her that they had engaged in sexual foreplay and that he had been trying to wake the woman to continue “fooling around”.

Gda Freyne told the court Ó Leidhin has no other criminal convictions and has never come to Garda attention before or since the incident.

He agreed with Bernard Condon SC, defending, that he was fully co-operative with the investigation and has a good working history as a journalist.

Mr Condon said that his client has been suspended from his position in RTÉ and will have difficulties ever working in his chosen field again. He handed in a number of references from long-standing acquaintances who described the defendant as a supportive friend and described his shame and sorrow at the events of the night.

Mr Condon said his client is remorseful and that having put his understanding of what took place to the jury, he accepts the jury verdict.

Traumatised

Reading from her own victim impact statement, the woman said that while she wished to retain her anonymity, she did not want Ó Leidhin to remain anonymous.

She said the assault had left her traumatised and feeling lost in the world. She said she was sexually violated when she was at her most vulnerable.

She said the night of the attack was the last time she would ever go to sleep feeling safe from attack.

She said she replays the assault again and again and has felt depressed and suicidal. She said she did attempt to take her own life by overdosing, and ended up moving back in with her parents outside of Dublin to cope with the trauma and stress.

She was unable to get public transport for a long time because the “touch from a stranger was unbearable”.

“My whole life and sense of self have been destroyed,” she said. She said she has since found it extremely difficult to trust men and would completely freeze during any intimate sexual activity.

She said it had taken three years from the time she reported the assault before the trial took place. This was completely unacceptable she said, and forced victims of sexual violence to be stuck in a state of trauma.

She said that giving evidence and being cross-examined was unbelievably distressing and she felt at times she was going to have a heart attack.

Handing down sentence this morning, Ms Justice O’Connor noted that Ó Leidhin was a person of prior good character, who lost a “prominent and promising” career in the media in the wake of the conviction. She said she considers him to be at a low risk of sexual offending in the future.

Defence counsel had urged the judge to consider dealing with the sentence by way of a community sanction, but the judge said the offence merited a custodial sentence.


If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800 77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.

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