Serial sex offender 'created fear in his victims'

time:2023-06-02 13:45:14 source:CNN (Cable News Network)

For decades Crossmaglen Rangers has been among the most successful Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) clubs in Ireland.

During that period Thomas McKenna was heavily involved in the club, holding the position of treasurer.

A postman and official at the village's credit union, he'd intertwined himself into nearly every aspect of community life.

By the time he was arrested in October 2018 he'd been abusing boys for nearly 30 years.

The abuse took place at the club, in the credit union, in his Royal Mail work van, in his home and on trips away.

Since his arrest he has been on remand at Maghaberry Prison and as the months rolled on more and more victims came forward.

He eventually pleaded guilty to 162 offences against 23 male victims, aged between 12 and 26 years old.

He used control, manipulation and a treat and reward system to coerce his victims, a prosecution barrister said.

On Friday, he was jailed for 16 years and will spend a further seven years on licence.

Child protection expert Marcella Leonard has worked with many of McKenna's victims as they have navigated a lengthy legal process.

"There is something about a sense of unbelievability about the numbers," she said.

"But what is really important is that these aren't just the number of victims but the number of families that have been affected as well.

"It's not about how he got away with it for so long - it's about the depth of fear somebody can create in a child.

"This individual had the capacity and ability to create fear.

"So when you have a belief that you are the only person and if you tell then this person is going to carry out the fear and threats that he has said, therefore as a victim you feel that you have to keep this quiet."

Historically the relationship between the police and the Crossmaglen community has been difficult.

But after the first victims came forward the floodgates opened.

"I myself grew up in a border county and coming from that GAA background... historically how the GAA and police would have interacted is another aspect that we have to consider was prevalent for the victims at the time," said Ms Leonard.

"So I think bravery is the right word but also fear, trepidation, anxiety.

"What has been incredible in this case is that from the moment the first victims told [about what happened to them], the club, the safeguarding [officials] and the police have had absolute belief and that has been so important for the other victims coming forward.

"We now have an opportunity to show children, young people and adults that initially they may have a fear of going forward to the police that we have good practice.

"This has been an historical change in terms of victims being able to come forward."

McKenna has now been sentenced for his crimes but for his victims the recovery process continues.

"For the victims the recovery process is only starting," said Ms Leonard.

"They now aren't having to use their energy with the criminal justice process.

"They can dedicate their time to how they emotionally, physically and sexually recover to live a life - a life that isn't being impacted by fear."

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