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Crossmaglen man who sexually assaulted woman as she slept spared jail

"She's missed out on so much. She doesn't want to miss out on anymore. She shares her story, not just for herself, but for those who've been affected by similar acts of violence."

Newry courthouse police

A Co Armagh woman who was sexually assaulted by a man as she lay asleep in bed says she has been left with “traumatising nightmares” and “anxiety has become a constant companion”.

On Monday, Fergal McEntee, from Ur Chill in Crossmaglen, was handed a two year prison sentence – suspended for three years – following an incident at a house party in Meigh in the early hours of Sunday, November 21, 2021.

Outlining the facts to the court, His Honour Judge Ramsey KC, said the 32-year-old defendant, who was unknown to the victim prior to that night in question, was out socialising in Newry. So too was the victim.

At the end of the night, the victim’s friend was very drunk and then very ill, so the complainant and her friends, rather than let her go home, took their friend to the home of one of the group in Meigh, and she was put to bed.

It was at this house party where the victim was approached by McEntee, who asked her on a coffee date, but she politely declined stating she had a boyfriend.

Later on, in the early hours of Sunday, she got into bed with her friend where she remained dressed.

Some time later she was awakened by McEntee who was turning her head and trying to kiss her, “shoving his tongue in her mouth”.

She noticed her top had been pulled to one side and her breast exposed and McEntee, who was topless, had his hands down her pants and he was touching her vagina under her clothes.

Judge Ramsey continued: “She screamed, sat upright and shouted at him….she was distraught and left stunned by what had happened.”

She heard him say, ‘you’re all right, nothing happened’. McEntee ceased what he was doing and left the room.

She made a phone call and cried silently for about 45 minutes before falling back asleep, but later, when she woke  up, she went to police.

Judge Ramsey told the court how McEntee, who initially denied the offences, then apologised to the victim via his defence barrister, stating that “he learned a significant lesson and that it would not happen again, and this was, I understand, welcomed by the complainant in this matter”.

In passing sentence, Judge Ramsey concluded: “He accepts that he misjudged the situation and he should have ensured that the victim was consenting to the sexual contact.

“[The prosecution] drew to my attention [to a pre-sentence] report that indicates a degree of victim blaming…however [McEntee’s defence barrister] in answer to that, referred me to the fact that this man originally had the assistance of a registered intermediary…and indeed the reference made to his low cognitive functioning and that may well play a part.”

Judge Ramsey reference the complainant’s victim impact statement where she says “she feels it is important for the court to understand the profound and lasting effect of this crime”.

“She describes being sent to the Rowan Center, which she found a devastating experience; although the staff tried to comfort her, she found it an intrusion into her modesty, reinforcing the loss of ownership over her body.

“She felt controlled by fear and disgust, and she would constantly scrub her skin after this incident. She experienced thoughts of self-harm and life not worth living as a result of losing her right to consent.

“She had been in and out of counselling because of these intrusive thoughts ever since. She says that since this incident, her life has changed in ways she had never imagined. The most immediate impact has been on her sleep. The thoughts of sleeping fills her with dread, because she knows that when she closes her eyes it will not bring her peace. Insomnia tortures her.

“The little sleep she gets is occupied by traumatising nightmares, anxiety has become a constant companion, and her interactions physically with men fill her with intense fear.

“Depression has taken a full hold on her spirit and her zest for life.

“She’s doing the best she can to cope; taking medication, seeking help through friends, sheltering herself from dangerous situations and practicing meditation. She’s missed out on so much. She doesn’t want to miss out on anymore. She shares her story, not just for herself, but for those who’ve been affected by similar acts of violence.”

Judge Ramsey concluded: “I hope now this particular court case now has come to a conclusion that it will provide a degree of closure for her.”

McEntee was also placed on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.

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