Dungannon man jailed for cruelty forced step-son to ‘eat skin of a melon’

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A Dungannon man has been jailed for 18 months for carrying out a “systematic and sustained campaign’’ of physical assaults and ill treatment on his step son.

The lorry driver, who cannot be named to protect the identify of his victim, had pleaded guilty to seven counts of cruelty towards the boy on dates between July 1, 2007 and September 16, 2009.

He took the boy into bathroom and “forced his head under water’’ in the bath

Passing sentence at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, Judge Stephen Fowler QC said the 28-year-old defendant that his “cruel behaviour’’ had left a “horrible experience on the vulnerable child’’.

The court heard the first attack happened one month after the defendant moved into his girlfriend’s’ home when the boy was aged just five.

The victim told police how they had been out in the car and he asked to go to the toilet when his stepdad punched him in the chest. The boy said they got back into the car and drove off before his stepdad stopped the car to apologise.

In another incident, he told detectives how the defendant forced him to the “eat the skin of a melon’’ which made him “physically sick’’.

On a further occasion, the court was told, the heavy goods vehicle driver took the boy into bathroom and “forced his head under water’’ in the bath.

The primary school boy said another time his stepdad “pushed him onto the bed, held him down, had his hands around my neck and then started to punch me to the head’’.

The court heard the boy’s mother then intervened by jumping on top of her son “to shield him’’ from the blows.

During a video recorded interview, the victim told police how, when playing football, his stepdad deliberately kicked the ball into his face and stomach.

A victim impact report prepared for the court said the boy had felt that what happened to him had “robbed him of his childhood’’, adding: “I never had a childhood.’’

Judge Fowler QC said among the aggravating factors were that the offences had occurred over a two year period while the victim was aged five to seven years old and that “threats were made not to reveal what had happened to him’’.

Barrister Noel Dillon, defending, said the stepdad had “expressed remorse and regret for his behaviour’’.

He added that the defendant was only 19 at the time of the offences, had been abusing alcohol, had been suffering mental health problems and had been subjected to abuse himself as a child.

Although the defendant was assessed by probation as not posing a serious risk of serious harm in the future, Judge Fowler QC said the harm caused to his victim had been “significant’’.

The judge added that had the accused contested the charge and had been found guilty, he would have jailed him for two years.

However, Judge Fowler QC said that he was giving the defendant credit for his guilty plea on the morning of his trial which “saved his victim from giving evidence’’ to the court.

“The appropriate sentence, given the principle of totality, is one of 18 months in custody,’’ he added.

The judge also banned the stepdad from working with children on his release and warned him his name may appear on the barred list for vulnerable adults.