A “sadistic” abuser who repeatedly raped his wife and attacked her with a baseball bat and scaffolding pole while she was pregnant has lost a bid to overturn his conviction on the basis that a screen separating him and the victim at trial could have created a prejudicial opinion that he was “a man to be feared”.
The rapist (57), who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of his victim, had pleaded not guilty to 16 sample charges of anal rape of his then-wife between 2003 and 2007 at a location in Co Tipperary.
At the same court he pleaded guilty to eight sample counts of indecently assaulting his younger sister and three counts of raping her at their family home between 1978 and 1987.
He was found guilty by a jury of the rapes of his wife and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment in March 2020 by Mr Justice Paul McDermott at the Central Criminal Court.
The judge imposed a sentence of seven years in relation to the offences against his sister and six years in relation to his ex-wife. He ordered them to run consecutively with no portion of either suspended.
Mr Justice McDermott said the defendant displayed “a viciousness towards his wife, the mother of his children” and showed a “callous indifference to her emotional welfare”, taking advantage of her when she was vulnerable.
At the man’s appeal hearing, Michael Delaney SC, for the appellant, said that portions of the oral evidence by the man’s wife should not have been allowed in relation to two claims of assault, and he objected to the use of a screen partitioning the witness from the court.
The woman gave her evidence at the trial from the witness box next to a screen preventing her from seeing the man. She told the jury that he had attacked her with a scaffolding pole while she was pregnant with their first child in 1995.
She also told prosecution lawyers that he further attacked her with a baseball bat while she was pregnant with their second child in 1996 and that on another occasion he held her hand on a hot radiator.
Mr Delaney had submitted that her oral evidence of the assaults was “highly prejudicial” as it had not been in her statement of complaint but had been allowed to go before a jury.
“The prosecution led evidence of a highly prejudicial nature concerning allegations of physical and violent threats and abuse other than which he was charged, which had insufficient probative value to warrant being admitted,” said Mr Delaney.
Need to protect
In dismissing the appeal today, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said that the trial judge, when allowing the screen to be used, “was obliged to consider and have regard to the need to protect the complainant from secondary and repeated victimisation, intimidation and retaliation”.
Ms Justice Kennedy said that the man had argued that the use of the screen “reinforced a view that the appellant was a violent man”, but that the trial judge believed the screen to be necessary for the victim to give “coherent” evidence.
The judge noted that it was the interviewing garda’s belief that “it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the complainant to give coherent evidence without the protection of the screen”.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the Court of Appeal was satisfied that the judge had “an evidential basis” from gardaí upon which he could exercise his discretion in using the screen.
A garda told the trial that the complainant’s statement took nine-and-a-half hours to take and that the woman became “extremely upset” and “incoherent” in her interviews due to her being in fear of the man.
“In exercising his discretion in favour of the respondent, he had particular regard to the nature and circumstances of the case and the personal characteristics of the complainant,” said Ms Justice Kennedy.
The judge said that the court was satisfied that the trial judge “balanced the competing interests” and the imposition of the screen did not amount to an “inappropriate exercise of the courts discretion – this ground fails”.
Regarding the appellant’s submission that background evidence from 1995 to 2005 outlining the abusive relationship should not have been put before a jury, Ms Justice Kennedy said the evidence was more probative than prejudicial and that the judge had exercised “considerable rigour” regarding the woman’s evidence.
The judge said the background evidence was rightly admissible and that “no error” had been made by the trial judge in admitting it. “We see no error with the admission of misconduct evidence prior to the offending,” she said.
“The evidence was relevant to the offences charged and necessary to demonstrate the true nature of the relationship between the parties, which was littered with violent episodes, domineering conduct, forcing the complainant to take refuge, emotional abuse and manipulative conduct.
“It would not have been sufficient to simply indicate to the jury that the marriage was one with violence and consequential separation from time to time,”said Ms Justice Kennedy.
The judge said the background detail was “necessary to illustrate the depth of violence” and that the trial judge took care to warn the jury that the background evidence could not be used to infer that the appellant was guilty.
Ms Justice Kennedy then dismissed the appeal, saying the court was not persuaded to intervene on either ground.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800-77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.