Monday, November 28, 2022

Paul Neilan

A “sick sexual abuser” who was jailed for nine years after being convicted of orally raping and sexually assaulting his partner’s daughter in the late 1990s has had his jail time reduced by two years.

The Court of Appeal heard on Monday there was a “significant prospect” that abuser Christopher Ashmore (76) might die in prison.

Ashmore, with an address at Cois Coille, Ballyfarnon, Co Roscommon, had pleaded not guilty to five counts of sexually assaulting the girl, which included two charges of oral rape, at two different locations in Dublin on dates between January 1998 and December 1999.

In June of last year, a Central Criminal Court jury found him guilty on four of the charges.

The victim waived her right to anonymity so that Ashmore could be named after he was sentenced on July 23rd, 2021.

Ashmore was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment with the final 12 months suspended by Ms Justice Carmel Stewart for the two oral rape charges and three years’ imprisonment for the two sexual assault charges. She ordered the sentences to run concurrently.

At the trial, Ashmore’s victim said he was “a sick sexual abuser”, who had been walking away from what he did for years.

“He showed me no mercy as an innocent young child. He showed no remorse for me,” the woman said.

Appeal hearing

At the Court of Appeal on Monday, Fiona Murphy SC, for Ashmore, said her client was appealing both the severity of his sentence and his conviction.

Ms Murphy said the trial judge erred in not taking sufficient account of her client’s age when sentencing him.

Ms Murphy said that while she had no issue with 12 years being identified by the trial judge as a headline sentence, nine years’ imprisonment for then 75-year-old Ashmore was “in effect, possibly, a life sentence”.

She said that Ashmore was not on the radar of gardaí at the time, had no previous convictions and had worked all his life.

Ms Murphy said Ashmore also had the support of his new partner and of his two daughters.

Mr Justice John Edwards said that the “heinous” offending was carried out over two years and that even though there was only a single victim it did not make the “persistent oral rapes any less violatory”.

Mr Justice Edwards asked Ms Murphy if she was submitting that a 10-year sentence on a man in his 70s was “in effect, a crushing one”, to which counsel agreed.

Ms Murphy said that the life-expectancy of an Irish male is in their 80s and her client could die in prison.

State’s argument

Siobhán Ní Chúlacháin, for the State, said the trial judge specifically and adequately considered Ashmore’s age upon his release and his personal circumstances when sentencing him.

Ms Ní Chúlacháin noted that the rape and sexual assault charges of the girl — when she was aged between nine and 11 — were sample charges before the court.

Ms Murphy also submitted that her client’s conviction should be quashed because of additional accusations against Ashmore that emerged when his victim was giving evidence in the case.

Ms Murphy said her client was entitled to know the allegations against him in advance in order to properly defend them and that the additional accusations should not have been allowed before the jury. She said that a direction of not guilty, applied for by the defence, should have been ordered by the judge.

Counsel said the new allegations gave rise to an unfairness in the trial and that the woman went “over and above” her Garda statement when recalling other allegations in the witness box.

Trial evidence

At the trial the woman stated that “there is an awful lot of stuff that’s not in my statement that he’s done”. She said that in making her statement she “just kind of got the basics out”.

On Monday, Garnet Orange SC, for the State, said witnesses recalling other historical matters “was an unfortunate consequence of cases of this nature”.

Mr Orange said that witnesses giving evidence can be “triggered” into remembering other memories of events.

He said that this did not prejudice Ashmore insofar as that his trial should be rendered unfair.

In dismissing the conviction appeal, Mr Justice Edwards said there was no “further prejudice” to Ashmore regarding the additional allegations on top of the two oral rape charges and the two sexual assault charges.

He said it was not possible for the defence to say they would have run the case differently had they known of the further allegations in advance.

Mr Justice Edwards said the defence had their chance at the trial to make their points to the jury about the additional allegations and that the woman had provided an explanation as to why she was recalling them during the trial.

Mr Justice Edwards said the court could see “nothing to render the conviction unsafe” and dismissed the conviction appeal.

Revised sentence

Regarding the sentence appeal, Mr Justice Edwards said Ashmore’s legal team had argued that there was a “significant prospect” he might die in prison.

Mr Justice Edwards said the court would take into account Ashmore’s age and quash the original sentence for the two rape convictions.

In re-sentencing Ashmore, Mr Justice Edwards fixed 12 years’ imprisonment as the appropriate headline sentence but discounted three years in mitigation and suspended the final two years.

The judge said Ashmore was to therefore serve nine years’ imprisonment with the final two years suspended.

The woman had told the trial “our home was a happy one,” and described listening to music and learning dance moves, “then he came to live with us and everything changed.”

She said she went from being “a happy-go-lucky” child to “a broken child full of fear and anxiety”.

The woman said the accused was her “bogey man” and said the fear she experienced “robbed me of my voice and my ability to speak”.

“Maybe he hoped I would always be terrified. The weight of all that fear and pain nearly broke me. But I chose life. I was living the fear. I am now living with guilt.”

“You left me a broken child, then a broken teenager and now a broken adult,” the woman said.

She said the man tried to destroy the closeness of her family, but did not.

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