The Court of Appeal has upheld the conviction of a pensioner who was jailed for sexually abusing three of his granddaughters for over five years and who argued there was no evidence to justify the time gap between the offending and complaints made by the girls.
The man (76), who is from the southwest and who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of his victims, was sentenced to six years in prison with the final two year suspended by Judge Orla Crowe at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court in June 2021.
He had pleaded not guilty to 13 sexual assaults of the girls, who were aged between eight and 11-years-old at the time of the offending, but a unanimous jury found him guilty on all charges.
The period of abuse for the first granddaughter occurred between March 1st, 2009, and August 31st, 2010; between October 1st, 2012, and February 11th, 2014, for the second girl, and between April 1st, 2012, and September 30th, 2014, for the third girl.
The man’s appeal hearing was told the first granddaughter made a complaint to her teacher in January 2014 that her grandfather was inappropriately touching her. She made her complaint to gardaí in 2016, which Mr Anthony Sammon SC, for the appellant, said was “well in excess” of the final complaint against his client.
The third girl confided in a school friend in 2016.
Mr Sammon said there had been “no evidential foundation” at the trial for the “delay” in making the complaint, adding the evidence given by both the friend and the teacher should not have been admitted without being tested.
Mr Sammon said there was a “doctrine of recent complaint” which meant the court was entitled to test if the complaints were made as soon as reasonably possible.
He said the court was entitled to enquire about whether the time-lapse in making a complaint was “justified” but that it had not been done in the cases against his client. Mr Sammon said there was no evidence to justify the delay “either way”.
Counsel said the first of the girls had said in evidence that she had also confided in a friend before she went to her teacher, but there had been no statement from the friend, who was not a witness in the case.
Katherine McGillicudy BL, for the State, said the first of the girls had “voluntarily and spontaneously” told the court in her evidence about telling her friend before confiding in her teacher and that the girl’s friend had not wished to make a statement.
In dismissing the appeal, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said intrafamilial abuse “can give rise to situations where a complainant may be understandably reluctant to complain to a parent or close relative who may have a close relationship with their abuser”.
The judge said intrafamilial sexual abuse is often a “prolonged” abuse and that this “in itself, may inhibit disclosure or there may be a reluctance to upset the extended family”.
However, Ms Justice Kennedy said when a complaint was made at a “significant remove in time”, a judge may conclude that the particular circumstances are “pivotal” in determining whether the complaint was made at the “first reasonable opportunity”.
Mr Justice Kennedy said there were “legitimate reasons” for the trial judge to admit the evidence of complaint. “In the circumstances of long intrafamilial abuse of a young girl, where the appellant is her grandfather and godfather and that he lived in close proximity to the family and saw him every week” were factors the judge had to take into account on deciding admissibility of the evidence, the judge added.
The fact that one complainant made her complaint four years after the last offence committed “did not render the evidence inadmissible in the present circumstances,” the judge noted.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the girls’ testimony at trial had also been consistent with their complaints to gardaí and that the trial judge did not err in exercising her discretion to admit the evidence of complaint. The judge then dismissed the appeal.
At the appeal hearing, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the question for the appeal court was with regard to “reasonableness” and not if the complaint was made “speedily”, noting there may be multiple charges spread over several years in some cases.
Ms McGillicuddy said because the man was the girls’ maternal grandfather, there had been a difficult situation in the family about coming forward.
When the girls’ father was told of the abuse, he went to confront his wife’s father, who denied the claims.
Counsel said that one of the girls said she had been in prolonged shock at what had happened to her at such a young age but that all three girls had been consistent in their evidence which was heard over two days.
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.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.