Sunday, 5 Feb 2023

Newly married man jailed for sexual assault and exploitation of schoolgirl

SEXUALLY explicit text messages which a married man instructed a schoolgirl to delete from her phone once she’d read them, were easily retrieved by gardaí following a complaint from the child’s mother.

The ‘sexts’ led to the conviction by a jury of Ray McHugh (39), from Ballaghbawn, Belclare, Tuam, for the oral rape, sexual exploitation and sexual assault of the schoolgirl four years ago when she was 13 years old.

The father of one was brought in custody before Galway Circuit Criminal Court, where he received an eight-and-a-half year prison term with the final 18 months suspended.

The now 17-year-old girl was present in court with her mother for the sentence hearing. McHugh hung his head and started to cry when sentence was imposed.

He had denied 20 sample charges involving the oral rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of the girl on dates between May 1, 2014 and February 27, 2015, during a two-week trial in December.

He had deleted explicit sexual texts he had sent to the child and instructed her to delete them once she’d read them. Gardaí had no difficulty retrieving the texts from McHugh’s phone and from the girl’s phone using digital forensics software Cellebrite.

Passing sentence, Judge Rory McCabe said there had been an element of grooming involved.

In her victim impact statement to the court, the girl said she was scared when her mother read the texts on her phone because McHugh had warned and threatened her not to tell anyone.

“Until someone else knew about it and I said it out loud, I didn’t know how wrong it was. He took so many pieces of me and he didn’t care,” she said.

The trial in December heard McHugh had claimed in statements given to Gardaí that the girl was lying because he suffered from erectile dysfunction around the time she said he had abused her. Medical records confirmed McHugh, who was newly married at the time, did suffer from the condition but had been prescribed medication to alleviate symptoms.

Jurors found him guilty of orally raping the child on four separate dates between October and December 2015.

They found him guilty of four counts of sexually assaulting the girl and guilty of seven counts sexually exploiting the girl.

The trial heard the girl was aged between 12 and 13 at the time of the grooming and abuse and McHugh was aged between 34 and 35.

McHugh started to hug the girl and this progressed to kissing her on the lips. He began to grope her and this escalated to sexual assault and oral rape.

The abuse continued, along with texts to the girl’s phone on an almost daily basis pestering her to give him oral sex, until the girl’s mother, by chance, came across the messages while checking her daughter’s phone. The texts came to light when the girl’s phone froze and her mother offered to have a look at it. Her mother found some disturbing texts and contacted Gardaí straight away.

The girl was subsequently interviewed by Gardaí. She told Gardaí that McHugh bought her a charm bracelet for her 13th birthday with ‘love’ inscribed on one charm. The abuse started after that, she said.

McHugh admitted sending the text messages to the girl claiming that, in hindsight, it had been a very stupid and inappropriate thing to do.

“It started as a joke and spiralled”, he told Gardaí during interview, sobbing at one point.

The sentence hearing heard today that McHugh came from a very respectable family and they, his wife and baby son, were victims too of McHugh’s crimes.

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