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Thursday 21 November 2019

'All rapists should get life' - victim's call as appeal bid is rejected

Dominique Meehan gave up her right to anonymity so rapist Keith Hearne could be named publicly
Dominique Meehan gave up her right to anonymity so rapist Keith Hearne could be named publicly

A young woman who was raped at a convention in a Dublin hotel has said every rapist should get life behind bars.

It comes after the man who attacked her failed yesterday in his bid to have his 12-year sentence reduced.

Convicted rapist Keith Hearne was trying through the appeals court to have his sentence reduced, claiming his clean record and mental health difficulties should have been taken into account when he was sentenced.

But yesterday the appeal court ruled the reduction of Hearne's sentence from a possible 15 years to 12 years on the basis of his guilty plea was sufficient.

After the verdict, victim Dominique Meehan told the Herald she believes sex attackers should get the harshest sentences possible.

"Every rapist should get life, and every child abuser, and without parole. This isn't something that just happened to me on July 4, 2015, this is something that is still with me and will never leave me," she said.

"He just won't go away. I wish he would.

"The verdict on his sentence brings relief that it won't go any further now, and maybe he will go away now and serve his sentence, but I still have to live with what he did every day," she added.

She has now called for more widely available services for victims of rape and sexual assault.

"We need more rape crisis centres, we need more counsellors, we need more SATUs (Sexual Assault Treatment Units), and everyone should know what services are available and what the number is to ring.

"It should be as easy to remember as the 999 number," Dominique explained.

In 2017 Hearne (30), of Allenton Drive, Tallaght, Dublin, pleaded guilty to two counts of rape, one count of oral rape and one count of falsely imprisoning Ms Meehan at a convention in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown on July 4, 2015.

During his sentencing hearing in 2017 the court heard how he locked the door of a conference room in the hotel where he had cornered Ms Meehan, bound her hands with his tie and raped her.

When she screamed, he told her he had a knife in his bag and would use it if she wasn't quiet.

Handcuffs

His bag, containing a "rape kit" of a prop knife, handcuffs, condoms, a mask and "sado-masochistic" items, was later found at the scene, the Central Criminal Court heard.

Ms Meehan was saved when another person forced their way into the room when they heard the disturbance inside.

In waiving her right to anonymity - so Hearne could be named publicly - Ms Meehan shone a spotlight on the treatment for rape victims, and the areas where it needs to be improved.

She has also brought sharp focus to the criminal justice system and how the process of convicting and sentencing attackers works.

"But in doing that I am now known as 'Dominique, the rape victim' where I'd much rather be known as 'Dominique the writer' or 'Dominique the singer'.

"I don't know if that will ever change," she said.

Hearne was sentenced by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy in 2017. At the time the judge said it was difficult to express the horror and seriousness of the offence.

He said Hearne carried out "a series of extremely violent sexual offences in circumstances which consisted of her false imprisonment over a period of time". The judge said Hearne's only mitigating factor was his plea of guilty.

At the Court of Appeal last month his lawyer argued his mental state and the fact that he had no previous convictions should also have been taken into consideration. Barrister Roderick O'Hanlon said a report on Hearne's mental health had been submitted to the trial.

"At age seven he had come to the attention of a senior clinical psychologist, an occupational therapist in 1998, an educational psychology report in 2002, a letter from a consultant child and adolescents psychiatrist in 2004, and he was in St Patrick's Hospital in 2004 where he was detained for approximately a week," he said.

Mr O'Hanlon said the sentencing judge had disregarded the psychiatric history of Hearne.

"I accept that the judge was correct in holding that he was criminally responsible for the offending on the day in question but the assessment concluded he was suffering from a mental illness," he added.

"He [Hearne] is criminally responsible but the judge still had to consider him as someone with a mental illness, a personal disorder, and no previous convictions," he explained.

But counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who opposed Hearne's appeal, argued the severity of the crime warranted the headline 15-year sentence open to the judge.

The reduction of the sentence to 12 years was a sufficient reflection of the guilty plea.

Barrister Anne-Marie Lawlor said the gravity of the false imprisonment and rape was "heinous and horrific" and "the depths of depravity", causing the victim extreme pain.

She said that at one point Hearne had licked Ms Meehan's cheek and said that "any girl would love this".

Ms Lawlor also said the doctor who submitted the report into Hearne's mental health had said there was "no causative link" between Hearne's mental health and the offence.

Sentences

She also argued there are cases where people committing their first offence receive long sentences, and Hearne's sentence was appropriate.

While the appeal court said the trial judge had fallen into error in not taking into account that Hearne had no previous convictions, and that he had not considered how Hearne's mental state could impact on his capacity to serve his sentence, it said it was satisfied the judge gave a significant reduction from 15 years to 12 years for the mitigating factor of the guilty plea.

"In the final analysis, we are satisfied that whilst the judge fell into error, this did not result in an error of substance.

"The offending conduct on the part of the appellant was of a most serious character and even taking the mitigating elements into account, we are satisfied that the conduct merited a sentence of 12 years' imprisonment," said Judge Isobel Kennedy.

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