July 2023

‘Perverted’ teacher who sent twisted messages to schoolgirl jailed

A secondary school teacher who preyed on a vulnerable young schoolgirl by engaging in sexually explicit conversations with her on Instagram over a 12-month period has waled free from court after being handed a three-year jail sentence with the final two years suspended.

The teacher, John Murphy, 42, a married father of one from Ferncourt Crescent, Ballycullen in Dublin had pleaded guilty to a charge of the sexual exploitation of the then 15-year-old victim

The Galway native, who was a teacher of mathematics and science in a school in Tallaght at the time of the offence, also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of the possession of child sexual abuse images 

A sitting of Wicklow Circuit Criminal Court had previously heard Murphy, who resigned from his teaching job in 2022, had during text changes with the girl on Instagram asked her for naked pictures of herself and told her that he wanted to be the one to take her virginity.

While no images of the girl were found on Murphy’s computer, she told gardaí that she had sent images of her in her underwear to the accused.

At a sentence hearing on Friday, Judge Corman Quinn said Murphy’s online exchanges with the girl had been “peppered with explicit sexual conversations” which had escalated over time.

The judge said an aggravating factor in the case was the gap in ages between the parties.

Judge Quinn said it was clear from a victim impact statement provided by the girl that she had been severely affected by the offences.

While Murphy might not have known his victim was a specifically vulnerable child, the judge said as a teacher he should have known anyone of that age was vulnerable but he had preyed upon that.

In his favour, the judge acknowledged that Murphy had entered an early guilty plea and had not raised the issue of a recent court ruling over the need to specifically note computers and other devices in applications for search warrants.

He noted that a probation report had expressed concern that the offending had taken place while he was employed in a position with responsibility over children.

The court had previously heard that a probation report had also remarked that Murphy had some “in-built hostility to women.” Judge Quinn said the victim in the case should be commended and had “did absolutely nothing wrong” as she had been “preyed upon by the accused.”

The judge also praised the girl’s mother for being vigilant and acting on her “very good instinct” and taking screenshots of the offending texts.

“She acted with great intelligence in doing all these things,” the judge remarked.

Judge Quinn sentenced Murphy to three years in prison for the offence of sexual exploitation of a child contrary to Section 3 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 but suspended the final two years on a number of conditions.

They included that Murphy submit himself to the direction of the Probation Service for a period of two years upon release from prison and to provide the authorities with his contact details and his address and of any changes to them.

Other conditions included a prohibition on him having any unsupervised access to children and the requirement to participate in a therapeutic programme for sexually harmful offending. Murphy’s name will also be placed on the register of sex offenders.

Judge Quinn also sentenced Murphy to a 12-month prison sentence for the child pornography offence to run concurrently. The former teacher, who was accompanied to court by his mother and wife, had no reaction to the sentence.

A previous sitting of the court heard Murphy had first contacted the girl via Whisper, a live chat platform, before asking for details of her Instagram account to exchange private messages.

The offending came to light after the girl’s mother came across their online conversations on her daughter’s mobile phone and reported the matter to gardaí.

Detective Garda Suzanne Ford gave evidence that child sexual abuse imagery or material consisting of two videos and nine chat logs were subsequently found on a Toshiba laptop seized during a search of Murphy’s home. Two other similar chat logs were found on a Samsung hard drive.

The court heard the videos contained the most extreme form of child sexual abuse imagery. 

The court heard he had asked the girl if she wanted a general relationship or “a friendship with benefits” and to “see where it goes.” He also encouraged her to “be brave and meet me,” although they never actually met in person.

In one text, he remarked that it was “just a pity plans to change the age of consent never happened.” Murphy also said that the age of consent was “pretty arbitrary.” “It is 15 in most of Europe and who is to say they are wrong.”

When the girl asked him if he had any kinks, Murphy replied: “Apart from liking teenagers? Another time he told the girl: “The first time I would like to be on top as I like to see the girl’s face as I go inside her.”

On one occasion, the teacher remarked that he would “like to make you bleed a little” and “want to come inside you”, while he also expressed his desire to touch her by placing his hands between her legs.

“You’re the type of girl I like – innocent and sexy,” he wrote. The court heard that Murphy was “naïve” as he had made no attempt to hide his identity from the girl as he had told her his name, where he lived and that he was a schoolteacher.

In a victim impact statement, the girl – who is now aged 21 – said her desire for exploration and the trust she had in people had been exploited when she was just 15 and the period was “the worst time of my life.”

“He exploited my personality for his own perverted needs,” she remarked.

The girl said she had initially started chatting with Murphy online out of curiosity but their conversations quickly turned sexual and she felt “trapped.” “He knew so much about me that I felt I could not stop talking to him. I felt he might come after me,” she added.

The court heard she developed mental health problems, anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder, while she had also struggled in school because of what had happened.

She described how she would go without food for up to four days in order to make herself more desirable. She also suffered panic attacks that someone was watching her and she used to have nightmares that Murphy would find her and do explicit things to her.

“I was left feeling dirty and used and felt more like a property than a person,” she said.