Paedophiles come in all Shapes, and Sizes, and Uniforms; Not a Good way, to end a Career, and get Jailed at 68 years of Age.

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Ex-garda ‘tried to blame his wife’ over images of child abuse

27/05/2022

A retired garda, who was previously awarded a Scott Medal for bravery, tried to blame his wife after he was caught by gardaí in possession of sexual images of young children, a court heard.

John McHugh, 68, with an address at Ard na Lí, Tralee, Co. Kerry, was jailed for 18 months with the final 12 suspended last Monday and was placed on a sex offenders register for ten years.

He was also ordered to engage in specialist therapy for sex offenders and be subject to 12 months of post-release supervision by the probation service.

woman stabbed ballymun
McHugh was convicted by a jury on March 22 following his trial at Tralee Circuit Court after he pleaded not guilty to knowingly possessing the illegal material (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)

McHugh was convicted by a jury on March 22 following his trial at Tralee Circuit Court after he pleaded not guilty to knowingly possessing the illegal material, which he downloaded off the internet and electronically stored on a computer at his home.

Judge Pat Meghan, who handed down the sentence on Monday, noted that it would be ‘exceptionally difficult’ for McHugh to go to prison, due to him having been a garda.

  • The judge said some of the victims in the images McHugh had downloaded were of ‘girls and boys aged between ten and 12 years’ involved in ‘sexual activity’. McHugh ‘tried to blame his wife during his Garda interviews and during his trial’, the judge said.
When gardaí called to McHugh’s home with a search warrant, he admitted searching online for ‘teen porn’ but denied seeking out ‘child pornography’. Pic: Shutterstock

When gardaí called to McHugh’s home with a search warrant, he admitted searching online for ‘teen porn’ but denied seeking out ‘child pornography’.

The ‘teen porn’ searches had been deleted from the computer’s internet history but had been retrieved later on during a Garda forensic sweep of the computer.

McHugh had claimed the offending material had ‘popped up’ on his computer screen when he searched the internet for adult pornography.

Despite initially making admissions when gardaí searched his home, McHugh went on to ‘deny his guilt’ and also claimed that arresting gardaí had put him under ‘improper pressure’ to make a statement admitting the offence – an allegation refuted by gardaí.

Judge Meghan said McHugh admitted during Garda interviews following his arrest that he had ‘an addiction to child porn’ but that he had ‘copped himself on’, and also ‘said he did not know child pornography was illegal’.

Judge Meghan said the aggravating factors of the case included McHugh having been a trusted member of the Garda. The judge also noted that a Garda forensic examination of McHugh’s home computer revealed eight images of children ‘involved in sexual activity’.

McHugh’s computer also revealed 28 explicit images of children’s genitals, which had been deleted from the computer, but retrieved by gardaí attached to the Computer Crime Investigation Unit (CCIU).

McHugh denied knowingly possessing ‘child pornography’ contrary to section 6 (1) of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998, on dates between August 3, 2006, and May 28, 2009. Pic: Shutterstock

A further 382 images of children, which a CCIU officer felt were ‘indicative of a person with a sexual interest in children’, were also discovered on the computer, along with seven ‘graphic’ cartoon images of children which were also deemed to be pornographic.

McHugh denied knowingly possessing ‘child pornography’ contrary to section 6 (1) of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998, on dates between August 3, 2006, and May 28, 2009.

Gardaí discovered searches for ‘teen porn’ on two computers they seized from McHugh’s home. McHugh’s lack of any previous convictions, and his unblemished 32-year career in An Garda Síochána, mitigated against the maximum five-year prison term under the legislation.

McHugh’s barrister, Andrew Sexton SC, said his client had ‘paid a high price’ due to the publicity of the case. However, he said McHugh’s family were present in court to support him.

‘In his retirement from the Garda, he has sundered the institution he has served in exemplary fashion, which brings its own penalty, it’s a pariah situation, and I would ask the court to be as fair to Mr McHugh as possible,’

Mr Sexton said. Sergeant Tim O’Keeffe agreed with Mr Sexton that McHugh was deemed not to be a risk to children. ‘None at all,’ said Sgt O’Keeffe. He also said that in his experienced view, the case was at the ‘lowest’ range he had come across, and said McHugh had had an ‘exemplary’ career in the force.

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McHugh’s barrister, Andrew Sexton SC, said his client had ‘paid a high price’ due to the publicity of the case. However, he said McHugh’s family were present in court to support him. Pic: RUNSTUDIO/Getty

Sergeant O’Keeffe agreed with Mr Sexton that this year was ‘an important year in An Garda Síochána, the centenary year’, and that had McHugh not found himself before the courts for the offence, he would most likely, ‘as a recipient of a Scott Medal, have been at the centre of the celebrations along with his colleagues’.

McHugh, a father-of-three, had served an unblemished 39 years as a garda in Tralee.

After the sentencing hearing, Garda sources said McHugh retired from the force in 2004 and was awarded a bronze Scott Medal for Valour in 1993 after he rescued at least one person from a burning building in Tralee.

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