A man jailed for sexually assaulting a woman he met on the online dating forum Tinder has had his five year prison sentence halved on appeal.
Paul Flaherty, 32, was found guilty by a jury at the Central Criminal Court of sexually assaulting a woman at his home on Kiltipper Avenue, in Tallaght, Dublin on August 31, 2015.
The incident took place while Flaherty’s parents were in the next-door bedroom
Sentencing him to five years imprisonment last year, Mr Justice Michael White said Flaherty’s behaviour on the night was “disgusting”.
He noted that the woman had made it clear to Flaherty that she was not interested in sexual contact but he ignored her.
The Court of Appeal upheld Flaherty’s conviction in July noting that what occurred in the bedroom was still “hotly in controversy”.
However, Flaherty successfully appealed against the severity of his sentence today and was re-sentenced to two-and-a-half years.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the offence could not be described as a minor sexual assault by any stretch of the imagination.
He said three matters emerged in evidence as being relevant to the sexual assault: the removal of the victim’s trousers against her will, “strangulation” and “genital touching”.
The Court of Appeal was concerned however, that five year’s imprisonment was the sort of sentence one might expect to see imposed for a sexual assault as part of wider and greater sexual misconduct.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, resentenced Flaherty to two-and-a-half years imprisonment.
Flaherty had no previous convictions for any sexual offences and positive testimonials were provided by people who had interacted with him over the years.
At trial, the victim alleged that Flaherty forced himself on her, forcibly removed her clothing and threatened to kill her.
Flaherty, who denied the charges, claimed that what had occurred was consensual and that the victim was not just a willing participant, but was “taking the initiative”.
He claimed he put his hands on her neck, at her suggestion, and spoke roughly to her as they engaged in role play.
Upholding his conviction in July, Mr Justice Birmingham said the trial judge was correct to hold that the defence’s various complaints “came nowhere close” to what would be required to stop the trial.
He said any issues raised about the credibility and reliability of the complainant were “quintessentially matters to be considered by the jury”.
Counsel for Flaherty, Michael O’Higgins SC, submitted that the jury’s verdict was perverse and that the sexual assault count had not have been particularised.
As such, one could not be sure of what Flaherty was convicted of.
Mr Justice Birmingham said experience had shown that juries “frequently grapple with the minutiae of the evidence on individual counts”.
As a result, he said juries sometimes come to “different conclusions”.
Even where some verdict might be regarded as inconsistent, he said appeal courts should be “very slow to intervene”, recognising the primacy of the jury’s role.
He said the trial judge’s instructions to the jury may provide an explanation as to why the jury would convict on some counts “but baulk at doing so on other counts”.
The trial judge pointed to aspects of the evidence which, he said, were capable of amounting to corroboration.
There was evidence of the complainant’s distressed state, there was a photograph of an injury to her neck and there was evidence of a text message exchange between Flaherty and a friend of his.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the fact there were different outcomes on different counts, did not establish, or indeed even suggest, the jury were confused or misunderstood their role.
He said the count of sexual assault was properly left to the jury and the verdict on it was properly received.