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There's So Much Shame To Go Around As Tom Humphries Sentenced

There's So Much Shame To Go Around As Tom Humphries Sentenced
By Michael McCarthy
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Earlier today, former Irish Times sportswriter Tom Humphries was jailed for two years and six months. He was sentenced by Judge Karen O'Connor at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for defilement and two years for child exploitation. The sentences will run concurrently.

This sentence, which is shockingly lenient, is just one more addition to the circle of shame that has brought disgrace on so many people in this case.

The only people who can carry their heads high after this whole sorry mess is Tom Humphries' victim and the abuser's family, who reported him in the first place, and were thanked for the support by the survivor.

Everyone else should hang their heads in shame.

Let's start at the top.  In my opinion, the Irish justice system today failed an innocent victim of sex abuse.

Humphries' actions were laid out in sickening detail during his trial. This was not a lapse in judgment. It was systematic abuse by a man in his late 40s on a girl who was between the ages of 14 and 16.

He pleaded guilty to four counts of inviting a child to participate in a sexually explicit, obscene or indecent act between January 2010 and March 2011. For an offence of this nature, there carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment (even if the average sentence is around 3.5 years).



Yet in her judgment, Judge O'Connor talked of sympathy for the man she was passing sentence upon. She also referenced the fact that Tom Humphries' profile makes his fall all the harder.

It isn't the fault of the abused that Humphries was high-profile. In fact, it probably put her in more danger. How is this a relevant point? Why isn't it about the victim?

This is a massive problem with the Irish criminal justice system. Humphries' sentence will shock and appall many, but it is hardly unusual. In Ireland, the average sentence for crimes of this nature is not much more than this.


It is a sharp reminder of just how difficult things are for abuse survivors in this country. For some reason, our courts continuously go easy on perpetrators of crimes of this nature.

According to the latest statistics from Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), 35% of survivors of rape reported the incident.

According to their 2009 Rape and Justice in Ireland report, 27% of rape victims withdrew their complaint.


Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecutions decide not to bring over 70% of remaining files to court. Of those who are prosecuted, 60% got convictions of some sort.

The RCNI say that while reporting is on the increase, rates of prosecution have been dropping.

And even when it does go that far? Imagine being a survivor of abuse considering going forward to the authorities and seeing this message  - a judge handing out a two and a half year sentence, and expressing sympathy for the convicted man.


Letters of reference

Shame must also rest of the shoulders of David Walsh, chief sports writer with the Sunday Times, and Donal Óg Cusack, the former Cork goalkeeper and one of the most respected people involved in Irish sport.

Today, Judge O'Connor said she gave "careful consideration" to the references both men gave to the accused.

Both men have had their say on why they offered the reference for Humphries.


Walsh explained in the Sunday Times on October 8th,  that he 'could not abandon him' someone who had been a friend for 30 years. Today, he issued a further apology.

Cusack released a short statement nine days ago, saying that it had been his intention to 'help a human in a dark place who asked me for help'. However, he added that he had shown 'a lack of judgement' in providing the character reference and that he is 'genuinely sorry'.

Since the sentence was passed, Cusack has also released two statements, resigning from the Board of Sport Ireland as he does "not wish any controversy to detract from the important work of the Board", and stepping down from his role as coach for the Clare senior hurling team.

But can we accept these words and actions, and just move on?

Tom Humphries was not the victim in this case. Cusack referenced his history of GAA volunteerism, a position he knew Humphries had used to exploit a young girl. This was more than "a lack of judgment".

The general purpose of character references are to plead for leniency in sentencing. Humphries had pleaded guilty to some horrible crimes, and yet Cusack and Walsh gave the court a reference.

When asked about the subject of character references, the RCNI expressed concern over them being delivered in cases like this.

RCNI spokesperson Cliona Saidléar told me that these character references can be very damaging to survivors. She says they can "dilute the important message" of the case which should be that society is on the side of the survivor and not the perpetrator.

Furthermore, Saidléar points out that while abandoning someone in your life guilty of these crimes can be a difficult, what's important is to hold them accountable for their actions, and not to excuse them or help them avoid punishment for their crimes.

RCNI also expressed dissatisfaction with "good work done in the community" being used as a mitigating factor for these cases, especially given that abusers often use this community work as a cover for their actions.

It is hard to excuse Walsh and Cusack for these actions, and I can't help feeling the apologies have just come too late.

The former employer

Meanwhile, the Irish Times, Humphries' former employer, who have been at pains to point out in recent weeks that he hasn't written for them since 2011, decided to join the mudslide of shame this afternoon, by posting what might be best described as an obituary for the journalism career of Humphries, penned by his one-time colleague Johnny Watterson.

The piece, which has since been edited, gives a detailed account of Humphries' acclaimed writing career, but originally only touched on his crimes in the final two paragraphs of the extensive profile.

The framing of the piece is, at best, unfortunate. How could we consider his writing career relevant in light of the crimes he has committed?


Most of all though, the shame lies with Tom Humphries, the abuser. The man who defiled a child for his own pleasure. The man who robbed a girl of her childhood, as she put it herself, and did so to get himself off with no regard for her well being. He used his position of trust as a GAA coach, and as a respected and famous journalist to force a child to engage in sexual acts with him.

In her victim impact statement to the court, she laid out what Humphries' abuse had done to her.

She spoke of panic attacks and flashbacks, of "feeling ashamed of the fact that I let someone do this to me, and that I allowed him manipulate and have control over me.

I went through stages of being physically sick, leading to a loss of school time, education time and thus affecting my learning capabilities.

“I lost a trust in men, a loss of my childhood due to the ordeal of having to deal with the police, counsellors, solicitors and social workers all through the ages of 14 to 16. I had to deal with sexual encounters at such a young age with a man three times my age, which made me physically, emotionally and mentally ill.”

Chances are he'll be out in 20 months.

And the survivor of his abuse? She's been let down not only by a man she had put her trust in, but now by the courts, by eminent members of society, and by the media.

If this case if a reflection of our society, we have an awful long way to go before the pendulum turns in favour of the innocent person at the centre of all of this.

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