Court of Appeal: ‘Lenient’ sentences for defilement and assault causing harm upheld
An application brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions seeking the review of sentences for defilement of a child and assault causing harm on grounds of undue leniency pursuant to s.2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
On 20 May 2019, Eoin Vickers was sentenced in the Central Criminal Court to 11 years’ imprisonment with the final two years suspended. He entered guilty pleas to two counts of defilement of a child and under 15 years of age, three sample counts of defilement of a child under 17 years, and assault causing harm against the same injured party, Girl A, and a count of defilement of another child under 17 known as Girl B.
Mr Vickers met Girl A in 2011, when he was aged 24. Girl A was aged 14. The meeting was in the west of Ireland where she lives. He was not from that area but had travelled there to participate in a protest. They had “almost daily” sexual intercourse. After a period, he decided that he would not use a condom. He told her was infertile, which was untrue. He later urged her to become pregnant, and she became pregnant by him. He devised the creation of a non-existent once-off sexual partner from Tipperary who was said to be the child’s father. His sexual activity with Girl A continued up until October 2013.
At an early stage he had her send sexual photographs, which he used as a form of control, threatening to distribute them locally or to put them online. He also gave her heroin. He actively sought to isolate her from her friends. When her school went on a trip, he took her passport, and he controlled and monitored her access to social media. In particular, he actively sought to restrict her engagement with boys of her own age.
In one of a number of physical assaults, he punched her in the face. She had a contraceptive implant and he cut her arm with a Stanley knife to remove it, which was the subject of the section 3 assault charge. There was a separate assault involving a knife and the use of needles to tattoo his nickname onto her genital area.
Girl B is the cousin and best friend of Girl A. In January 2013, she became aware of his interactions with Girl A. Mr Vickers also supplied her with heroin. He engaged her in sexting, which progressed to sexual intercourse on two occasions.
The DPP sought a review of the sentences on the grounds of undue leniency. The DPP argued that the respective headline sentences identified of ten years for the defilement of Girl A, three years for the defilement of the Girl B, and two years for the section 3 assault, were too low.
The DPP argued that Mr Vickers’ premeditation and planning, the number of criminal acts, the age gap between him and his victims, the vulnerability of the injured parties, and the level of violence committed against Girl A warranted a heavier sentence.
Further, the DPP submitted that the sustained nature of the abuse in relation to both girls, the fact that compromising photographs of Girl A were used as a threat, and the plying of both girls with heroin were grossly aggravating factors.
The trial judge Mr Justice Michael White commented that the transcript of the sentence hearing made for “grim reading”. He went on to describe Mr Vickers’ behaviour as manipulative, controlling, violent, narcissistic, and pure evil activity.
Mr Justice George Birmingham, President of the Court of Appeal, giving the judgment of the court, noted that it was “an unusual case” due to the duration of the offending, and the fact that there were two complainants. “As defilement cases go, this has to be regarded as exceptionally serious.” He noted that there was the significant age gap to consider; the respondent was twice the age of each of the complaints. “When Mr Vickers first met [Girl A], she was in her school uniform, in her second year in secondary school, and there can be no question about uncertainty or confusion about the girls’ ages.”
“The Court can say at the outset that it agrees that the sentence that was imposed was a lenient one. In saying that, it is quite clear that the trial judge approached his task with particular care.” The court’s chief difficulty presented in this case is the extent of the reduction afforded by way of mitigation, being a reduction of 15 years to 11 years, and identified that the only significant mitigation present here was the guilty plea. The plea, however, was not an early one, and the court noted that it was entered against a background of overwhelming evidence, at least in relation to Girl A.
President Birmingham noted that if the Court of Appeal was to sentence at first instance, the court, and its individual members severally, would have imposed a sentence higher, and would not have given the same discount as the sentencing judge did. Citing DPP v Bryne, he noted that it is “not the point that the Court, individually, and indeed, collectively, would have been disposed to impose a greater sentence than the one actually imposed”.
The question is whether the sentence imposed was not only lenient, but unduly lenient so as to require intervention. “That it was lenient is, in our view, not open to doubt.” However, the court held that it was not unduly so, and that it fell within the judge’s margin of appreciation. The DPP’s application was refused.
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020