Accounts of horrific abuse and cruelty meted out to a boy and his three younger sisters in a rodent-infested house by members of their own family were heard in a Belfast court yesterday.
In one of the worst cases of its kind to come before the Crown Court, prosecuting QC Charles MacCreanor told of how the youngsters lived in constant fear, and suffered abuse starting when they were in cots and continuing until the later primary school years, when they were finally taken into care.
Trial Judge Mr Justice Horner also heard that not only were they sexually abused by their mother and others, including an ex-RUC man, but were brutally beaten by their father.
The judge learned that their mother forced the children to watch her having sex not only with strange men, but also with her own brothers.
Mr MacCreanor said on occasions the girls reported that as they looked on, their mother told them it was something “we would need to learn”.
However, in defence the court heard that while the mother’s behaviour was “inexcusable”, she in no way was a “predatory paedophile”.
Rather, claimed defence QC Brendan Kelly, she was an alcoholic of low IQ whose loneliness led her to promiscuity – and as a result she failed her children “markedly”.
The court also heard that even after being taken into care the children’s suffering continued, and that they were subjected to further cruelty at the hands of their father when allowed out to visit him.
In the dock were the parents and uncles of the victims – who can’t be identified to protect their traumatised, now-adult victims.
Sitting beside them were fellow defendants Thomas Fitzpatrick, a 53-year-old former RUC reservist, and 59-year-old baker Patrick Kilmartin.
In all, the six accused – including Fitzpatrick, originally from Crewhill Gardens in Ardglass, and Kilmartin, originally from Bryansford Gardens in Newcastle – have pleaded guilty to a total of 49 charges between them, dating back as far as the summer of 1977. Behind them, in the public gallery, sat their victims.
Details from social workers’ reports were also heard, which painted a grim picture of the children’s lifestyle.
One social worker reported finding mouse droppings in a breakfast cereal box, while the children ran around filthy, wild and uncontrollable.
They were starving and slept in beds with no sheets or blankets. One sibling, who often wet her bed, was made to lie on the soiled mattress.
Mr Justice Horner also heard one girl was kept in a cot until she was aged at least two, and could hardly talk or walk.
When a social worker asked why she was not allowed out, her mother complained she could not afford a fire-guard, and was frightened of the child burning herself.
Mr MacCreanor said while the social worker went out and bought a fireguard, she also noted the mother had enough money to spend on drink.
The court also learned despite the parents’ guilty pleas they were still in denial, with the mother claiming “she was a good mother who did everything for her children”.
The 58-year-old mother faces the most charges – 23 – involving six of sexual indecency and 17 of cruelty and neglect.
Her 60-year-old husband admitted the same cruelty charges, while Mr MacCreanor said ex-police reservist Fitzpatrick had pleaded guilty to indecent assault, gross indecency and common assault involving three of the children.
Turning to the crimes of the uncles, which ranged from indecent assault to gross indecency, the lawyer said they amounted to a breach of trust.
Mr MacCreanor said the least guilty was Kilmartin, responsible for a single count of indecent assault.
When the drunken man realised what he had done, he was so shocked and disgusted he never touched drink again.
In defence of the mother, Mr Kelly spoke of a woman of poor intelligence, who “even at the eleventh hour” pleaded guilty in an effort of saving her children from reliving the events in court.
The case continues on Tuesday when further pleas of mitigation will be given.