Former RTE journalist jailed for 15 months for sexually abusing sleeping woman

A former RTE journalist has been jailed for 15 months for sexually abusing a woman.

Echelle Leidhin (38) of Sunnyside, Malahide Road, Artane, was convicted of sexual assault last April at her former home in South Dublin in the early hours of May 13, 2018.

Leidhin, a native of Ballinskelligs in Ko Kerry, denied the crime, but his lawyers told a sentencing hearing at the Central Criminal Court earlier this month that he now accepts the jury’s decision.

Sentencing her today, Justice Karen O’Connor agreed a defense application to stay the sentence until next Monday, August 1, when Leidhin is to present herself at Mountjoy Prison.

The judge said Leidhin “accepted the verdict but not the significance of the verdict and is relevant when asked to consider the remorse”.

She said that the complainant had provided “compelling” evidence of the ongoing trauma following the attack.

He was sentenced to 18 months and suspended for the last three months on multiple conditions. After the sentencing, a female supporter of Leidhin burst into tears.

At a previous sentencing hearing, Garda Niall Freyne told trial to Michael Delaney SC that the complainant, who is legally entitled to anonymity, was drinking with a female friend in a Dublin pub when they met the defendant. Meet someone who knew his friend.

The group went to another pub and the woman and Leidhin were kissing.

At the end of the night, Leidhin tells the woman to go back to her flat in South Dublin and they find a taxi there.

In the flat they were kissing and Leidhin engaged in consensual sexual foreplay type of activity.

Leidhin suggests that they have penetrative sex. The woman said no, but left open the possibility that they might do so the next morning, Mr Delaney told the court.

In his account for the gardai, Leidhin stated that he was unable to obtain an erection.

The woman fell asleep again and later got up and found Leidhin on her own and groping her breasts. He said that he told her to stop and walk away from him.

He stopped and said to her: “Sorry, I’m horny”.

The court heard that she was annoyed and told the defendant that she was apparently asleep.

The woman said that she went to sleep. Later that night Leidhin took her home and over the following days he sent her text messages expressing annoyance at what had happened.

He met with her and they talked for an hour and “they agreed to separate” about what had happened, Gda Freyne said. About a year later, in April 2019, the woman went to Gardai and complained of sexual abuse.

The following July, Leidhin met Gardai and said that after falling asleep together he had woken up and began to kiss the woman and climbed on top of her.

He said that he had tried to wake her up and when she woke up, she was annoyed at what he was doing while she was sleeping.

He told Gardai that he told her that they had engaged in sexual foreplay and that he was trying to wake the woman to continue “silly”.

Gda Freyne told the court that Leidhin had no other criminal convictions and never came to notice before or after the incident.

He agreed with Bernard Condon SC, defending that he was cooperating fully with the investigation and has a good working history as a journalist.

Mr Condon said his client had been suspended from his post at RTE and would have difficulty working in his chosen field again.

He made several references from longtime acquaintances who described the defendant as a supportive friend and described his shame and sadness at the events of the night.

Mr. Condon said his client is remorseful and accepts the jury’s decision after understanding what happened before the jury.

Reading out her own victim impact statement, the woman said she wanted to retain her anonymity, but did not want Leidhin to remain anonymous.

She said the attack traumatized her and made her feel lost in the world. She said she was sexually assaulted when she was at her weakest.

She said that the night of the attack was the last time she would fall asleep feeling safe from the attack.

She said that she had repeated attacks over and over and felt depressed and suicidal.

She said she attempted to overdose herself and moved back with her parents outside Dublin to deal with the trauma and stress.

She was unable to get public transport for long because “a stranger’s touch was unbearable”.

“My whole life and sense of self have been destroyed,” she said. She said that since then she has found it extremely difficult to trust men and will completely freeze during any intimate sexual activity.

She said it had taken three years from the time she reported the attack before the trial. He said that this is completely unacceptable and forced victims of sexual violence to be trapped in a state of trauma.

She said that giving evidence and cross-examination was incredibly disturbing and that she felt at times like she was going to have a heart attack.

Sentencing this morning, Justice O’Connor said Leidhin was the first person of good character to have lost a “prominent and promising” career in the media after being convicted.

She said she considers him to be at low risk of future sexual assault.

The defense counsel urged the judge to consider dealing with the sentence through community sanction, but the judge said the offense deserved a custodial sentence.