An alcoholic who “violated” a vulnerable disabled girl “in the dead of night” in a mixed ward at Antrim Area Hospital they shared was jailed on Thursday for 18 months by a judge who hit out at the reasoning behind such wards.
Judge Desmond Marrinan’s scathing criticism came as he also ordered 56-year-old recovering alcoholic Ronnie Carleton to serve an additional 18 months on supervised licenced parole upon his release.
Carleton, from Ballymena Road, Cullybackey, admitted indecently assaulting his vulnerable disabled and defenceless 33-year-old victim, described by the Antrim Crown Court judge as “more akin to a child than an adult”.
Judge Marrinan said that while nursing staff on the mixed high dependency ward were busy with other important duties, Carleton took the opportunity to reach across, in the dim light, and sexually abuse the girl.
“I can say to you without emotion,” the judge told Carleton, “your actions were despicable and inexcusable”, and it must have been obvious to him his victim “was a very disable and vulnerable girl, more akin to a child than an adult”.
She was also an “utterly defenceless girl ... and easy prey to your sexual desires carried out in the dead of night in a place where she should have felt safe and secure and should have been”.
Judge Marrinan said but for the good eyesight and quick reaction of a staff nurse, Carleton’s criminal behaviour could have gone on for longer.
And to compound his crime, Carleton told staff: “I thought she was ok with it... I thought she was over 18”, and then while awaiting arrival of police, told security staff; “They won’t get any DNA off me”.
Carleton later claimed that he had no memory of his time in the hospital, or his attack on the girl. Judge Marrinan dismissed this claim as “a self serving fabrication” aimed at diminishing his responsibility.
Judge Marrinan then turned to criticise the management of the Area Hospital and their thinking behind the operation of mixed wards. While praising nursing and security staff on duty that night, he said he could think of no reason why this defenceless 22-year-old woman should have been placed in such a ward.
“I seriously question whether hospital management gave sufficient consideration to provide safe and secure care for this victim,” said Judge Marrinan who added it was “obvious to me she should have been in an all female or side ward”.
However, instead the woman was in a bed next to which was placed Carleton, admitted because of alcohol related hallucinations.
Judge Marrinan said hospital management should have realised that in Carleton they were dealing with a “volatile and unstable patient” after he had tried to abscond from the hospital earlier.
His victim, the court heard, suffering from a rare condition from childhood which left her needing care 24/7, had since died from a matter unrelated to the vile attack on her.
However, Judge Marrinan said that the girl’s mother, in a victim impact letter, claimed her daughter “never recovered” from the effects of the horrifying attack.