A west Belfast father publicly apologised in court on Thursday to his son for repeatedly slapping and punching him in the family home.
The 50-year-old, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his victim, had pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to three counts of child cruelty on his son over a three-year period.
At the suggestion of Judge Patricia Smyth, the defendant turned round in the dock, faced his 16-year-old son in the public gallery and told him: “I unreservedly apologise to you son. I hope you will accept that.’’
The judge said she was suspending a 15-month prison sentence in the hope of “removing an obstacle’’ which might allow the father and son to patch up their fractured relationship.
A Crown lawyer told the court that the defendant struck his son “with a full force slap’’ in August 2008 when he was aged just 10 and at primary school.
The court was told the accused had been called home after his son had struck a sister during a family row.
“The second incident related to a time when the victim had got himself into a bit of trouble at his grammar school,’’ said the prosecution barrister.
“An exam paper had been removed, photocopied and passed around. The accused had been in the golf club and returned that evening, after being contacted by the school, stuck his son against a wall and punched him to the body. His older sister had to step in to protect him.
The prosecutor said that a third incident occurred in February 2011 after his son was detected for shoplifting at the Primark store in Belfast.
“The defendant collected his son from the police station and on the way home told him: ‘I am going to beat you like I have never beaten your before’.”
The court heard the accused sent his son to his room and later followed him to his bedroom.
“He threw his son across the floor, repeatedly punching him to the face and body. On that occasion, the victim’s grandfather intervened to stop what was going on.”
The lawyer added: “The accused went well beyond parental control considered to be for any wrongdoing however it was perceived.’’
The court heard the defendant was assessed by probation as not posing a significant risk of serious harm and was a medium risk of reoffending.
A defence barrister said his client wanted to “apologise unreservedly to the court and to his son and accepts that he has caused harm and distress to his son’’.
He added: “These offences did not take place in the vacuum of cold blood. Clearly he went over the top. He went beyond what was required. He accepts that.’’
The lawyer said that the defendant once had a very close relationship with his son but had no contact with him in over two years after the family and the parents divorced.
Judge Patricia Smyth told the defendant that he had treated his son in an “awful and despicable way’’ and said a victim impact report stated that his son still had not got over the trauma of the attack and “continues to receive counselling and shows symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)’’.
The judge added that the defendant’s ex-wife stated in a victim impact report about life at home: “When things are good they were very good; and when things are bad they were very bad.’’
She said that she accepted that the defendant had “lost everything, his family, his job and contact with his children’’ but added that the case had passed the threshold for custody.
Judge Smyth that at the forefront of her mind was the welfare of the victim and the long-term effect the assaults would have on him.
However, she added that there was “always the opportunity for reconciliation within a family’’ and that not sending the accused to prison “had maybe removed an obstacle in the future’’.
“This case is a tragedy for your son and your family. For your son’s long-term welfare I am suspending the 15-month sentence for three years. That’s the decision of this court,’’ added Judge Smith.