Opinion

Editorial: Abuse hidden in plain sight

The universal reaction to the case of Thomas McKenna, who was jailed on Friday for a long campaign of sexual abuse, will have been one of horror and disgust.

The 62-year-old was told he will spend 16 years behind bars for more than 160 crimes carried out over three decades from 1989 to 2018.

A former treasurer of Crossmaglen Rangers GAC as well as a postman and director of the local credit union, the court heard how he used his influential position in the community to groom and manipulate his 23 male victims, some of whom were particularly young and vulnerable.

He bought alcohol for many, facilitated credit union loans for others and even told some he could get them promoted to the senior team.

The sickening offences were carried out in hotels while travelling with the club and in his home and the homes of some of those he targeted.

Judge Patricia Smyth said the psychological harm he inflicted was "immeasurable", with some of the victims describing suicide attempts, addiction issues and disruption to their education.

It is thanks to the remarkable courage of those young men and their families that McKenna's appalling offending finally came to light and his shocking campaign of abuse was ended.

In a statement after the sentencing, they expressed their collective determination to ensure the pain and suffering inflicted on them would not be experienced by another generation in their community.

They also urged any other victims of abuse to take confidence from their experience of securing justice, encouraging them to reach out to relevant authorities.

Thomas McKenna is sadly not the first serial sex abuser to have been detected and is unlikely to be the last. As police have warned, the case demonstrates the highly manipulative nature of such predators and how their terrible crimes can be "hidden in plain sight".

It also emphasises the importance of robust procedures in sporting and community organisations and across society to ensure children are protected and wrongdoing is quickly reported and addressed.

The GAA, which was thanked by victims of McKenna for its support, said an independent review has been commissioned and its recommendations will be implemented.

The task of ensuring all our children can grow up in a safe and supportive environment is an ongoing one and it will be vital that any lessons from this horrific case are learned.