A Co Antrim man who exercised control over his two young sons with “brutal force” was jailed on Wednesday alongside his wife who sexually abused one of the boys.
Sending the couple to prison, Judge David McFarland said that despite being found guilty by a jury of offences against the children, which has had a significant impact on both victims, they had shown no remorse.
Citing the offences against the children in the family home in Newtownabbey as “a shocking breach of trust”, the judge told the couple: “The children were well fed and well turned out, especially for church and school, but there was a darker secret or secrets to your family.”
The pair cannot be named to protect the identity of the complainants.
While the 62-year old man was jailed for a campaign of child cruelty against his two sons from they were aged five to aged 16, his 59-year old wife was jailed for sexually abusing one of her step-sons when he was aged between 10 and 14.
The cruelty to the boys was meted out by their father between January 1984 and August 1996 and included being lashed with a leather belt and punched in the face, while the sexual abuse against one boy occurred between August 1991 and December 1995.
A jury of nine women and three men took over 10 hours to deliberate multiple charges levelled against the couple during a trial at Belfast Crown Court which spanned two weeks and which took place last December.
Sentencing the couple, Judge McFarland spoke of the “brutal force” used by the 62-year old, who beat his sons with his fists, a leather belt and a cane. Pointing out that on occasions the man used the buckle end of the belt to beat his sons’ bare flesh, Judge McFarland told the defendant his actions went “well beyond” reasonable chastisement.
The judge told him: “There is no excuse whatsoever for hitting children with a belt, and using the buckle end to inflict injuries.”
During the trial, the court heard both boys were beaten by their father. On one occasion, one of the boys forgot his geography homework and was punched repeatedly which resulted in a bloody nose, while another beating occurred just before a school trip to Dublin.
The jury also heard that one of boys was slapped across the nose by his father at the top of the stairs, which caused him to fall down the stairs and hit his head on a wooden box at the bottom. The siblings were also ‘stuck repeatedly’ after Mass.
The court heard the defendant sustained very serious injuries in a road collision three years ago. Judge McFarland said that as a result of his health issues, he would reduce the prison sentence from 18 months to 12.
Jailing the 62-year old for a year for wilfully assaulting and ill-treating both his sons as youngsters, the judge told him: “I will show you lenience, which was not afforded to your children.”
His wife was also jailed. She was found guilty by a jury of repeatedly indecently assaulting one of the boys.
Branding her offending as “more subtle”, Judge McFarland said she became part of the family in the mid-80s after the boys’ mother left in 1982.
Addressing the 59-year old, Judge McFarland said: “You were aware of the regime in the household and you knew (the boy) was unlikely to report to his father or others about what was happening.”
The sexual abuse occurred in the marital bed after the youngster was encouraged to get into bed beside his step-mum on Saturday mornings when his father was at work.
Citing this prolonged campaign of sexual abuse as “a shocking breach of trust”, the judge spoke of the “long-term consequences” of her actions on her victim in childhood, adolescent and into adulthood.
The judge noted her clear criminal record and excellent working history, and told her “this is a significant fall from grace as far as you are concerned”.
He added: “Sexual offending against children is a serious matter and will always result in a custodial sentence.”
She was sentenced to a year and a half in prison, followed by two years’ probation when she is released. She was also banned from working with children, and will be on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years.
The judge then told prison staff “take them down in to custody”.