Woman's fury as sex attacker given reference by GAA boss Harte is jailed for two-and-a-half years
The woman sexually assaulted and thrown semi-naked out of a van by a man Tyrone GAA boss Mickey Harte gave a character reference to, said the sentence her attacker was given is too lenient.
The victim, who is still suffering the effects of the trauma, was too distressed to attend Londonderry Crown Court yesterday where Judge Piers Grant jailed Ronan McCusker for a total of two-and-a-half years.
The 47-year-old mother spoke to the Belfast Telegraph through the Rape Crisis Centre where she said: "I have already served two-and-a-half years. For a long time I couldn't leave the house even to go to Mass or to the shops.
"I am relieved it is all over and I am glad he is in prison but the sentence is not long enough."
The woman will now seek to get the jail term handed to McCusker increased. McCusker had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the woman on June 28, 2010 and also to assaulting her by throwing her out of a van in a semi-naked state, as well as motoring offences.
Judge Piers Grant explained in court that the legal guidelines for these type of offences were between one and four years.
He then outlined a number of mitigating factors that led him to the sentence he imposed. Among these were references supplied by Mickey Harte, the defendant's "respectable and responsible" family, the intoxicated state of both parties and the defendant's guilty plea and previously clear record.
Eileen Calder from the Rape Crisis Centre said the sentence sent out the wrong message. "When I heard this sentence, I couldn't believe it. This woman is a highly-respected woman and she has suffered so much as a result of this," she said.
"She thought she was safe going in a taxi with this man because she knew him and his family and she knew he was aware of her state of health. Instead he did that to her and threw her out without her clothes and left her for dead. The men who found her thought she was dead.
"She was left with a number of abrasions, cuts and bruises and she feels so let down. She is really not in a good way right now, but glad that at least this man is now behind bars, even for a short time."
The victim's family has also said they were disappointed by Mr Harte's involvement.
Ms Calder questioned the length of sentence handed down by Judge Grant which she said sent out a message, especially regarding the issue of alcohol.
"I understand he referred to the amount of alcohol taken and that it in some way was a mitigating factor," she said. "This is wrong and should have no bearing on any kind of sex attack. The police and prosecution did a really good job but a sentence like this is sending out a particular message.
"There is no sexual offence that I know of that carries four years.
"Sentences in Northern Ireland generally are longer than in the Republic or in the UK although I know there has been attempts to change that. We will raise this with Mark Durkan because he is the MP and he can take this to the Attorney General so that the sentence can be increased on the grounds that it is too lenient and that is our intention."
Victim's family left 'disappointed' by Tyrone manager
By Donna Deeney
A judge took character references on board, including one provided by Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte, when deciding to jail a sex offender for just half the maximum sentence.
Judge Piers Grant told Ronan McCusker (27) from Ballygillen Road in Cookstown that he had "taken into consideration" a number of factors including references and a guilty plea when he imposed a sentence of two years for sexual assault.
In addition to this sentence the judge added six months for assault to run consecutively and two six-month sentences for driving offences to run concurrently.
The total jail term is two and a half years, with 15 months of this to be served behind bars and 15 months on licence.
McCusker also has to sign the sex offenders' register for 10 years and is barred from working with children or vulnerable adults.
Wearing a grey suit, blue shirt and striped tie, the defendant entered the dock handcuffed to security staff and nodded to the large number of his family and supporters in the public gallery.
The victim's son and daughter, accompanied by one other family friend listened intently as Judge Grant summed up the case.
He told McCusker he offered to share a taxi home with his victim, but he then passed her house and went to his family home where "with a degree of calculation" he took his father's van without permission and drove to "a lonely place" where he sexually assaulted her.
"You knew she was incapable of consenting but you then left her semi-naked and abandoned, therefore you humiliated and exposed her and the effect on her has been significant. She was found at 6am by two men who came down the lane and discovered this semi-naked woman lying in a driveway unconscious and they thought she was dead.
Judge Grant said the sentencing guidelines for the offences committed by McCusker were between one and four years and that there were mitigating circumstances he would take into consideration.
These included McCusker's guilty plea, the highly intoxicated state of both parties, and the defendant's previous clear record.
Judge Grant added: "I accept your plea, and I accept a degree of remorse.
"I have read the references and the doctor's reports where she said there is no risk to the public in future and that she attributed what you did on this occasion as a wicked misjudgment on your part."
Speaking after their mother's abuser was jailed, two of her children said their family hoped to "piece our lives back together again".
"We are so proud of mummy for making the decision to take this on, not just for herself but also to protect other females.
"We are disappointed by Mickey Harte's involvement and we would like to be left alone now to nurse mummy back to good health, physically and mentally."