A man has been given a 10-year sentence for raping a 12-year-old girl in his car in Brighton, having groomed her online.
Niall O’Sullivan, 28, drove from his home in Birmingham and parked at Brighton Marina where the abuse took place.
O’Sullivan, a former mechanic for Halfords, pleaded guilty to rape and was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court yesterday (Friday 24 November) by Judge Christine Laing, the honorary recorder of Brighton and Hove.
The court was told that the girl, who is autistic, had told her mother that she was meeting her friends which, initially, she did.
When she left her friends to meet O’Sullivan, they called the police who caught him in the act in his grey Audi A6 estate car.
Judge Laing commended the two friends who would be nominated for a £200 award from the High Sheriff. The judge said: “They did absolutely the right thing.”
Tim Forster, prosecuting, told the court that O’Sullivan raped the girl on four occasions in April and May this year, having initially made contact with her on Snapchat in November last year.
He told her that he was 21 and she said that she was 15 but, Mr Forster said, when they first met she was in her school uniform. He said: “She was clearly under 16 by a significant margin.”
The victim revealed that O’Sullivan became angry with her when she tried to speak with or go out with other friends.
Kevin Light, defending, said that O’Sullivan was a man of previous good character, adding: “He had a good work ethic and had always been in work since he left school. He was a trainee manager at Halfords.”
O’Sullivan made full and frank admissions when interviewed by the police and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and was remorseful.
Mr Light said: “Why did this offending behaviour happen? There’s no justification for it. There is an explanation. I put it no higher than that.
“There was a breakdown in a relationship. It was sudden. He was living in his car for two months and his mental health was very fragile.
“He knows what he did was wrong. He has mentioned throughout that he did not know how young she was although he admits that he knew she was under-age.”
Judge Christine Laing said: “Sexual abuse of young children often gives them a life sentence. None of us knows the impact that it will have on (the victim) as she grows up.
“The law is there to protect children … and that’s why the sentences are as severe as they are.
“You knew full well you shouldn’t have been doing what you were doing. You drove all the way down from Birmingham just to have sex with this child.
“It would have been very obvious that she was very young and somewhat naïve.
“You didn’t even bother forking out for a hotel for this child but just had sex with her in your car. You knew full well that if you took her into a hotel, you would very likely have been challenged.”
The judge jailed O’Sullivan for nine years and four months and sentenced him to a further year on licence. The court was told that he had spent six months in prison on remand.
Judge Laing told O’Sullivan that he would have to serve at least two thirds of the nine years and four months before he could be considered for release on licence.
She made O’Sullivan the subject of a sexual harm prevention order indefinitely, to restrict his access to children, and ordered him to register as a sex offender for life.
Sussex Police said that the victim had received support from specially trained officers as the Brighton Safeguarding Investigation Unit (SIU) led the inquiry into O’Sullivan.
Investigating officer Detective Constable Stewart Cameron, from the Brighton SIU, said: “This was a highly distressing case which has had a lasting impact on the vulnerable young victim.
“O’Sullivan knew what he was doing was wrong and had no choice but to plead guilty when confronted with the evidence.
“His behaviour was brazen, often taking the victim to public locations in daylight in order to commit the appalling offences.
“This case demonstrates our determination to catch offenders and to get justice for vulnerable victims. We are pleased that a dangerous sex offender is now off our streets.”