A DRIMOLEAGUE man who sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl when they were sharing a ward at CUH was this week given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty.
Serious questions must be asked of hospital management over the way they operated their ward system, Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said.
He made his comments after Andrew O’Donovan of Butlersgift, Drimoleague pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to sexually assaulting the girl on May 14th 2018.
‘This is a very, very troubling case where you have two patients presenting to Cork University Hospital and were placed side by side in a mixed ward and one sexually assaulted the other in the late night, early morning,’ said the judge.
‘You have to question the management of the ward system that allowed this young girl to be placed in close proximity to a man who was known to have a history of schizophrenic tendencies and a long psychiatric history,’ said the judge.
Det Garda Caroline Keogh of the Cork Protective Services Unit told how the girl was in the four-bed ward with three adult men when O’Donovan appeared in a gap in the curtains around her bed at about 5am.
He began talking to her and started stroking her arm and then placed his hand on her breast and touched her vagina through the sheet and pyjamas.
He tried to kiss her but she moved her face to one side. He then asked her out for dinner and invited her to go the cinema before he moved away and returned to his own bed in the room.
Det Garda Keogh said the girl couldn’t use the alert bell because of her injuries. Nursing staff were alerted when they noticed O’Donovan’s heart started racing and his heart monitor reached elevated levels.
In her victim impact statement the girl said she suffered an accident which left her completely immobilised but she thought she was safe in hospital.
She alerted a nurse and told her what had happened and as the nurse left to get help, O’Donovan came back into her cubicle again and she was afraid he would assault her again.
‘The hospital placed me into a separate room but despite being separated from the defendant, I was very fearful and distressed, knowing that I was in the same building as him and therefore, I wanted to go home,’ she said.
The girl said she was so fearful the following night that her father had to sleep in a chair beside her hospital bed. Since the incident she has developed a fear of older men.
The assault also affected her Leaving Cert as she suffered anxiety and flashbacks and she couldn’t concentrate in school. She didn’t get the points she needed for her chosen course, even though it was within her ability.
‘As a result, this has changed my whole career path in life,’ she explained. ‘During the Leaving Cert exam, the incident was headlined on the papers which led to my friends finding out about it, therefore increasing my anxiety,’ she said.
The girl said she saw no remorse in O’Donovan when he appeared in court.
Judge Ó Donnabháin proceeded with sentencing despite O’Donovan failing to show up in court, but he said it was clear to him from seeing him at earlier court appearances that he had ‘limitations’.
Det Gda Keogh agreed that O’Donovan, whose wife died just before Christmas, had limitations. He has no previous convictions and lives a basic existence in a remote rural area.
Defence counsel Dermot Sheehan SC said his client had been receiving psychiatric treatment at Bantry General Hospital since the 1980s and pointed out he had saved his victim the trauma of a trial with his guilty plea.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said O’Donovan presented a sentencing problem given his psychiatric history but he noted his guilty plea was of benefit to the victim, in that it was a public acknowledgement that he was guilty and she was innocent.
He sentenced him to 18 months but suspended it completely.
• A spokesperson for CUH said: ‘Management at Cork University Hospital have noted the comments of Mr Justice Seán Ó Donnabháin and wish to advise that following this incident a review of protocols for the admission of patients to hospital wards was undertaken. Factors such as accommodation, staffing and patient safety were examined as part of this review process.’