A man jailed for five years for sexually assaulting a woman he met on internet dating app Tinder will wait to hear if the Court of Appeal will reduce his sentence.
Paul Flaherty (30) was found guilty by a jury at the Central Criminal Court last December of sexually assaulting a woman at his home on Kiltipper Avenue, Tallaght, Dublin on August 31, 2015. The incident took place while Flaherty’s parents were in the next-door bedroom. Flaherty and his victim met for drinks earlier that day after exchanging messages on Tinder.
Appealing the five-year sentence, Michael O’Higgins SC told the three-judge court that the trial judge should have considered his client’s offence at the lower end of the scale. He said the prosecution case was that Flaherty had been convicted of sexual assault for taking off the woman’s clothes, choking her and touching her genitals.
Mr O’Higgins said these acts should have been broken down into three separate charges by the prosecution so that the jury could have decided exactly which act or acts his client was guilty of. As that did not happen, counsel said the trial judge should have assessed which offence was proved beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced accordingly. He said that if his client had only been guilty of forcibly removing the woman’s clothing that would be an offence on the lower end of the scale. If he was convicted of attempted strangulation then that would be more serious, he said.
Counsel said there is a “serious issue” in relation to the allegations of attempted strangulation and genital touching and, “there is a question mark over whether the jury made a finding in respect of those acts.” He said the judge could have asked the jury to explain the basis for their guilty verdict to avoid doubt.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions Eilis Brennan SC said the trial judge had been clear on the basis for sentencing. She said there was no doubt the woman was subjected to a violent sexual assault that would put the offence at the higher end of the scale. She pointed to bruising on the woman’s neck and the evidence of witnesses who saw her distressed state after she fled Flaherty’s home.
President of the Court of Appeal Justice George Birmingham said he would deliver a judgment next Thursday, October 24.
During the sentence hearing in March 2018 Justice Michael White noted that the woman had made it clear to Flaherty that she was not interested in sexual contact but he ignored that request.
He said the woman’s bodily integrity was “sacrosanct” and this was a “very serious sexual assault” which could not be described as minor.
In her victim impact statement, the victim said her life would never be the same again since Flaherty, a man “twice” her size, sexually assaulted her.
“It shouldn’t matter what clothes I was wearing, how I wore my hair or what I said. On that night, this man abused my trust, preyed upon my naivety and annihilated my human rights. He left bruises on my body, which have long since faded, and he inflicted scars upon my mind that will never heal,” she said.
She said not only had she suffered “physical and mental torture” but she had to “relive the event” during the trial where her life had been “stripped bare” and her character “assassinated.”
“The fact that another human being is capable of inflicting such horror upon another was, and still is, so profoundly shocking to me. I no longer dream of raising children because the world seems so sinister now”, she said.
The woman said every “unfamiliar man” now had the potential to be a “predator” and she felt forced to give up her civil service job as she could not concentrate on her work. She feared walking to and from her workplace car park and worried Flaherty would attack her again.
She said there was no manual for “overcoming something so abhorrent” and she “very nearly” lost everything she had worked for because of Flaherty’s actions on that night.
Garda Aisling O’Connor told Kerida Naidoo SC, prosecuting, that Flaherty and the woman initially made contact through the Tinder dating app before exchanging telephone numbers.
They arranged to meet and spent the day drinking together before returning to his parent’s house in Tallaght. They went to Flaherty’s bedroom where there was consensual kissing before Flaherty went on to assault the woman.