May 2012

Farmer gets eight-year term for sex assaults on four girls

A FARMER and former Kerry County Council employee was yesterday given an eight-year prison sentence, at the Circuit Criminal Court, Tralee, for sexually assaulting four girls between 2003 and 2008.

Last March a jury had found John O’Connell (59), of Killaly, Castleisland, Co Kerry, guilty by a majority verdict on 29 counts of sexual assault, following an 11-day trial.

The accused, who had pleaded not guilty, was 50 years old when the assaults started and the victims were aged between 10 and 14 years. All the victims were severely traumatised by the abuse and embarrassed by the trial and the court experience, the court heard.

Judge Carroll Moran, handing down sentence yesterday, said it was a bad case in that there were multiple incidents of assault over a long, continuous period and the accused had been in a position of trust as he was a friend of the parents of some of the victims.

The judge said the offences were also committed at a time when the accused had to be aware of the opprobrium attached to the sexual abuse of children and society’s intolerant attitude to such offences.

The victims are now in their late teens and early 20s and only one felt able to read out a victim impact statement at a previous sitting of the court.

Seventeen charges related to one victim, eight to a second, three to the third and there was one charge involving a fourth girl. One of the assaults took place in the county council van O’Connell used to read water meters. Other assaults were in the home of some of the victims and in his own home, the court heard.

Garda Emma Mullane, Tralee, told how the victim of 17 of the assaults was unable to bring herself to come to court, or to write a victim impact statement.

The abuse, in her case, began late in primary school and continued to secondary school. “Matters came to a head after she became disruptive at home,” the garda said.

Speaking outside the court afterwards, one of the victims urged other victims of sexual assault to report offences to the Garda.

Vera O’Leary, director of the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, who was with the victims in court, said society owed a debt to four brave young women who broke their silence to ensure justice was done.

“Their action should give encouragement to other victims who now know their cases can be heard and that they can get justice,” Ms O’Leary said.