Teenager who did not know age of consent given suspended jail sentence

Court told laws are there to penalise predatory paedophiles, not love-struck teenagers

A 19-year-old man who had intercourse with a 16-year-old girl has been given an 11-month suspended prison sentence.

Judge John Neilan made his final decision on the case at Mullingar District Court after reading a victim impact statement and receiving a probation report relating to Jason Higgins, 53 Farran, Mullingar who pleaded guilty to the offence in October.

The incident had taken place at a location in Westmeath in the summer of 2008.

Mr Louis Kiernan, solicitor for Mr Higgins, said that the section of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences ) Act under which the teenager had been charged was designed “to penalise predatory paedophiles, not love-struck teenagers.”

He pointed out that his client, who had “battled to overcome a learning disability” and had attended a special secondary school, had been “genuinely shocked” to discover that it was illegal to have intercourse with a 16-year-old.

Mr Kiernan also pointed out that the consultant psychiatrist who reported on Mr Higgins had indicated that it is a common belief, even among his own colleagues, that the age of consent is 16 when in fact it is 17.

Statements given by Mr Higgins and the victim were read aloud in court in October and indicated that both had willingly had intercourse.

Judge Neilan suspended for three years an 11-month sentence he had put in place in October, ordering Mr Higgins to stay away from the victim at the request of her family.

State solicitor Peter Jones said the family had also expressed to him their request that Mr Higgins not go to prison. He said that publicity surrounding the court hearing had caused “more upset”.

He described the incident as “an unsavoury matter from everybody’s viewpoint”.

Judge Neilan was highly critical of media commentary on the case, some of which he found “extremely offensive” and which he said had turned the case into “a blood sport” which had caused hurt to the victim.

He said he had no intention of adding Mr Higgins’ name to the sex offenders’ register.

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