Today I watched the sentencing of a truly evil man. I don’t use the word lightly. I’m the first person to say that the word “evil” is misused in the media these days. It seems like anyone convicted of a violent crime will lumped in with the devil by tabloid subeditors. We have had evil rapists, evil wife killers, evil paedophiles presented to us with such regularity that the word has almost lost all meaning.
Take the cases of Larry Murphy and Gerald Barry for example. Murphy abducted a woman from the street and took her up to the Dublin mountains where he subjected her to a horrific rape. Barry killed Swiss student Manuela Riedo and raped a French student. Both cases were horrific, the type of crime that triggers some primeval fear, the threat of the unmotivated attack, the random motiveless crimes. Both men could be termed animals, monsters even, but evil is something different.
The word “evil” means something else. A more metaphysical threat beyond the ordinary. The ultimate black and white into which no grey is allowed. It’s something almost unimaginable, almost archetypal. Something beyond sheer brutality and horror.
Today’s sentencing was a case like that. In the years I’ve covered the criminal courts I’ve seen a lot of monstrous crimes, seen people convicted of murder and rape who I would have no hesitation in dubbing a psychopath but I would stop short of calling any of them evil. Irredeemable maybe, banged to rights certainly but not evil. That’s something else.
Well today was something else. The man in the dock was old and frail, approaching his 74th birthday. He wasn’t much to look at sitting huddled over his blue folder shuffling through the notes he had taken through the trial. He looked no different, no worse than any of the other paedophiles I’ve seen over the years, wizened old men the lot of them, accused by now grown up victims of crimes committed in the long lost depths of a shattered childhood. But this was different.
When I first started working in the courts I covered another trial with him at the centre. The victims then were two grown up women who he had abused when they were little girls in the 1970s. I hadn’t covered many trials back then and was shocked by what I heard but as repellent as the details were in that case this new trial brings things to a whole different level.
The victims now were three of his own children, who had not even been born when his previous crimes had taken place. They had ranged in age from 3 to 11 when the abuse occured. The courts had begun their summer break when the jury found him guilty of 87 counts against three of his children after a two month trial.
Today the litany of crimes was recited once again. The court heard that his son, who had been abused between the ages of three and six had been so traumatised by the constant assaults that took place when he went to the toilet that he became unable to use the bathroom. When he was taken into foster care he had been so traumatised that he would defecate into a drawer of clean clothes rather than do to the toilet.
Two of the man’s daughters had told the court how their father had repeatedly raped them, describing a perverted twisting of adult love making that their mother had done nothing to stop. The abuse had started when they were as young as four. He would tell them he loved them as he lay on top of them, ignoring their tears and pleas to stop. He told one of them that this was just what fathers did.
Even when the HSE was notified and the children were taken into care, even when the man was charged with the offences so many years ago and the legal machinery had slowly started to move into action, the abuse did not stop.
One daughter described him banging on her window after she had been taken into care and persuading her to run away with him. When the girls ran away he raped them; in the disabled toilet in a McDonalds; on the ground in view of the boats in Howth; in another toilet in a shopping centre. One girl described how on the DART to Howth he had spread his jacket over their knees and abused her.
Both girls read victim impact statements to the court. Addressing her father one said that she had loved and trusted him, believed him when he told her he loved her best. It had all been lies, she said. She had blamed herself when she was taken into care, she had written, but it had been his fault.
She had lost her family, she said, had been separated from her brothers and sisters and now no longer knew them. When she was 16 she had found herself in a violent relationship but could not leave because she had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. The memory of what he had done to her was like “a shadow that won’t go away” she said. She still wakes up screaming.
She begged the judge to give her father a long sentence so she could feel safe again.
Her sister described how giving evidence during the trial had been “like being abused again”. She told the court that she hated the part of her that was related to her father and the part of her that had been abused. All that was left was a shell. “”I would have been better off if he had have killed me.”
Passing sentence Mr Justice Bermingham said it was hard to imagine a more serious offence. He said the rapes of the girls, after they had been taken into care, while their father had ignored the moves taken to stop the abuse, were at the worst end of the scale. The maximum sentence of life imprisonment was not one to be given lightly he told the court but these crimes warranted it. The man will start his life sentence when his current ten year term ends. With a degenerative heart condition and his advanced age there is a good chance that he will die in jail.
The two girls looked shell-shocked as the sentence was handed down but their father barely flinched. He shrugged at his legal team and did not look at his daughters agonised faces.
The man cannot be identified, since to do so would also identify his children who deserve to have a chance to try to rebuild their lives in peace now that their father is locked away from them. They have suffered horrendously at his hands and have been left feeling that no one, not those closest to them, nor the gardai nor well meaning social workers could save them. Hopefully one day they will have some measure of peace and will know that at least some kind of justice has been done.
Their father is the only example of pure unadulterated evil I have ever seen. A devious and manipulative man who tries to bend the law to suit himself and has never at any stage shown the least sign of remorse, the coldest, most ruthless type of pervert who would use his own children for his own sexual gratification. He’s not a sick man, a twisted, depraved one maybe, but even the psychiatric report furnished by his own defence team could not find any mitigating mental dysfunction.
A fiend like that defies understanding. There was no unhappy childhood, no history of childhood abuse so commonly heard in defence submissions in cases like this. This man was and is an ice cold manipulator, a genuine monster who has destroyed those he should have protected. He really is the face of evil.