A County Armagh man who inflicted a year-long campaign of rape upon his stepdaughter when she was as young as seven has been jailed for 18 years.
The man – who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the victim – was sentenced at Newry Crown Court for 11 counts of rape, as well as one count of cruelty to a child between July 2006 and October 2007.
His Honour Judge Gordon Kerr KC handed down one of the longest sentences possible for the crime of rape due to the nature of the offending against his stepdaughter which all occurred while her mother was out of the house.
The defendant, who continues to maintain his innocence, was found guilty following a jury trial at Newry Crown Court earlier this year.
Judge Kerr recounted the young girl’s recollection of the first time the defendant came into her bedroom.
“She had been lying on the bottom bunk reading a book when her stepfather came in wearing only boxer shorts. She thought he was drunk because she could smell it on him.
“He said ‘honey, nothing bad is going to happen here, it’s just going to be a bit of fun’.”
It was at this point he got into the bed beside her, removed his boxers, and raped her.
The court heard how she was subsequently threatened by the defendant not to say anything about it and that she “was really scared”, adding that that particular episode was interrupted because her grandfather arrived and rang the doorbell.
Judge Kerr said that type of offending went on for the period of about nine to 12 months, and “all was when her mother was not at home”.
A jury convicted the defendant on 11 counts of rape to reflect the period of time.
In relation to the child cruelty charge, the victim described her stepfather “as violent and, if angry, an aggressive person”.
She described a particular occasion when he slapped her on her legs “four or five times” leaving her bruised “because she should have been in bed”.
Several years later, when she was a teenager, she wrote a note about this period in her life and gave it to her foster carer because “she didn’t want to bottle it up any more”. The case was then referred to police by Social Services.
When questioned by police, the defendant confirmed he drank excessively, regularly, but when asked about whether he got into bed with the victim he replied: “Not that I know of.”
When the allegations of rape were put to him he claimed “he could not get it up when he was drinking”.
A victim impact report prepared by Dr Michael Patterson concluded the victim had “suffered neglect prior to the defendant being involved with her family” and that “there was sexual abuse suspected when she was as young as two”.
“The early experiences of her mother neglecting her would have created a vulnerability and the combination of neglect by her mother and the treatment she received from the defendant have had a cumulative impact on her response to life plans and how she has seen herself [since].”
A pre-sentence report on the defendant outlined how he continues to deny “having any sexual interest in the victim and maintains that he viewed her as being his own daughter and did not treat her differently from other children”.
In passing sentence, Judge Kerr said the threats he made to her and the physical assault she had been subjected to, “appear to have retained a fear in her that stopped her from disclosing sooner”.
He stated his sentence reflected the extreme vulnerability of the victim and that she was a 7-8 year-old child who had been in the Child Protection register prior to the period of offending “due to the emotional and physical abuse she had suffered in the parental home”.
He added: “It is a case of abuse of trust. He was effectively her father… he was trusted to take care of her. The repetitive abuse continued for about a year…there’s the distinctive disparity in age and the offending took place in the victim’s home where she was entitled to feel safe.
“The offence of cruelty represents the physical abuse against the victim and that the offending was taking place in an atmosphere where there was fear on the part of the children due to the aggressive behaviour of the defendant, no doubt, on occasions caused by drinking.”
Judge Kerr, who said there were no mitigating features in the case, handed an 18 year sentence for the 11 counts of rape and three years – to run concurrently – for the single count of cruelty against a child.
He was also handed a lifetime restraining order against the victim and ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register for life.
Welcoming the sentence, Detective Chief Inspector Heather Campbell, said: “The offences committed by this man against a child in his care are cruel and sickening. I want to thank the woman for assisting our investigations. Her bravery and tenacity to come forward to Police and take this man to court for his crimes should be commended.
“Now an adult, the victim in this case continues to suffer long-lasting harm as a result of this man’s perverse crimes, that occurred in her home, a place where every child should feel safe and cared for by those who love them. No child should ever have to suffer and have their innocence taken away like this.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland take reports of child abuse extremely seriously. Please be assured that we have specially trained detectives who will robustly investigate reports and who remain determined to bring anyone involved in any form of child abuse before the courts to answer for their crimes, no matter when they occurred.
“I would continue to encourage anyone who has experienced any form of sexual abuse to contact police on 101, or in an emergency call 999.”