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Former school caretaker who abused vulnerable girl in 1990s handed jail term

By Paul Higgins

Published 15/04/2016

Mark Cole at an earlier appearance at Newry court
Mark Cole at an earlier appearance at Newry court

A former school caretaker who tricked a young and "vulnerable" girl into performing a sex act on the pretence of a game has been given a two-year jail sentence.

Sentencing 60-year-old Mark Gerard Cole, Newry Crown Court Judge Kevin Finnegan QC said he hoped the end of the case would "give some measure of closure" to the paedophile's victim, a woman now in her 20s.

He also ordered the defendant to spend three years on probation after his release.

At an earlier hearing, Cole, originally from Thomas Street in Warrenpoint but whose address was given as c/o Magilligan prison, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of indecent assault against his victim on dates between July 1997 and July 2001, when she would have been between four and seven years old.

Opening the case, prosecuting lawyer Fiona O'Kane revealed how the victim "gained the fortitude to come forward" in December 2014 after reading in the Press how her tormentor had been jailed for sexually abusing three other girls.

The previous month, Cole was handed a five-year sentence, with two years to be spent in jail and three on probation, after he pleaded guilty to 19 counts of indecent assault on various dates between May 30, 1990 and June 30, 1999.

Cole, who was a caretaker at St Mark's High School in Warrenpoint, admitted 15 offences in relation to one victim, three counts in relation to a second victim and a single charge in relation to a third. In court yesterday, Mrs O'Kane said that while she was at pains to avoid minimising the old cases, the abuse carried out previously was "not as grave" as the latest crime.

The lawyer described how Cole's latest "extremely young and vulnerable" victim had to endure what he told her was a game but which she now realises was oral sex.

Arrested following the revelations, Cole confessed during police interviews and subsequently pleaded guilty when he was first arraigned.

Mrs O'Kane submitted that while she accepted the defendant was assessed as being at a medium risk of reoffending, he had caused a "high degree" of harm to his victim, and that his culpability was also high in that the offences represented a serious breach of trust.

Defence barrister Kevin Magill told the court that Cole had expressed "genuine remorse and empathy" for his victim and that the main feature to take into account was the "totality principle", referring to the sentence that would have been passed had this case been dealt with at the same time as the previous one.

Conceding that it would be "foolish" to suggest a heavier sentence would not have been passed, the lawyer revealed that had it not been for the fresh allegations, Cole would have been freed last November.

He adding that the defendant wanted "to do everything that's required of him" so he can attempt to rebuild his life.

As well as the jail term, which Judge Finnegan said was a consecutive sentence, Cole was ordered to sign the sex offenders' register for 10 years and given a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

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