How shamed sports writer once damned ‘cun­ning of pae­dophiles’

Tom Humphries warned of ‘sick minds who prey on kids’ in sport — and then ended up do­ing ex­actly that, writes Maeve Shee­han

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Analysis -

THE for­mer sports writer, Tom Humphries, trig­gered his own un­mask­ing when he do­nated one of his old mo­bile phones to his daugh­ter. She was collecting them to be re­cy­cled by a char­ity and her dad obliged with the phone he had used to send thou­sands of sex­u­ally ex­plicit text mes­sages to a young girl he had groomed from the age of 14.

Per­haps Tom Humphries thought his se­cret was safe, be­cause he had re­moved the sim card. But as his sen­tenc­ing heard last week, his daugh­ter de­cided to insert a sim card in it, and by do­ing so, could read the text mes­sages. Scrolling through mes­sages of a “highly sex­u­alised na­ture” to the young girl, his daugh­ter dis­cov­ered her fa­ther’s crim­i­nally sor­did se­cret.

She told her mother that same evening. Humphries no longer lived at the fam­ily home. He had been es­tranged from his wife for some time. The next day, her mother and Humphries’s brother-in-law went to his apart­ment to con­front him.

Ac­cord­ing to ev­i­dence out­lined in court, Humphries was dis­traught. He im­me­di­ately talked about killing him­self.

Humphries was ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal. He fol­lowed through on his threat, at­tempt­ing sui­cide af­ter he was ad­mit­ted. He was trans­ferred to St Pa­trick’s psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, where he at­tempted sui­cide again.

His wife and her brother went to gar­dai, hand­ing over Humphries’s in­crim­i­nat­ing phone, along with two oth­ers they had found.

That was March 2011. It would later tran­spire that Humphries had sex­u­ally ex­ploited the young girl on March 18, shortly before he was ex­posed.

Last week, a vic­tim im­pact state­ment writ­ten by the young woman abused by Humphries, now 54, was read out in court. In a mov­ing ges­ture, she thanked his fam­ily for re­port­ing him to An Garda Siochana and bring­ing about an end to the abuse.

“With­out them re­port­ing this, I do not know where I would be to­day. I will be for­ever grate­ful to them for sav­ing me from the sit­u­a­tion. I hope and pray that you can all get past this and some­how man­age to live a nor­mal, healthy life,” she wrote in her state­ment.

The man for­merly known as one of Ire­land’s best loved sports jour­nal­ists sat hunched in Dublin Cir­cuit Crim­i­nal court, as de­tails emerged of how he had de­filed and sex­u­ally ex­ploited a child. It seemed he wished to hurry on his pun­ish­ment, con­vey­ing to the judge that he wanted to go to prison im­me­di­ately, rather than wait un­til the end of Oc­to­ber when she would hand down his sen­tence.

Sex­ual preda­tors rarely come with warn­ing bells. Count­less tri­als have shown how they in­fil­trate by be­hav­ing as nor­mal folk, only friend­lier and more trust­ing.

Humphries was that nor­mal bloke, a sort of ev­ery­man but with a stun­ning tal­ent to show­case his in­ci­sive wit. He was born in the UK to Ir­ish par­ents, who re­turned to Dublin when he was a child. He was raised in Ra­heny and was ed­u­cated by the Chris­tian Broth­ers in Fairview. In an in­ter­view with Hot Press in 2003, he re­called how be­ing a kid with an English ac­cent, he wanted to be­come more Ir­ish than the Ir­ish, so he took up Gaelic foot­ball. He got into sports writ­ing ahead of Italia 1990, when he was un­em­ployed and some­one sug­gested he could fill in for the sports hacks off at the World Cup. That led to jobs at The Sun­day Tri­bune and then The Ir­ish Times.

He swiftly joined the pan­theon of stand-out Ir­ish sports writ­ers who are revered by their read­ers and ad­mired, if not en­vied, by their col­leagues, the likes of David Walsh, Paul Kim­mage and Ea­mon Dun­phy. In his Locker Room col­umn in The Ir­ish Times, he had a tal­ent for writ­ing ex­actly what his le­gions of read­ers thought but in a way which was funny, sur­real and lyri­cal.

Humphries at­tained celebrity him­self when Roy Keane gave him an in­ter­view slat­ing the Ir­ish man­age­ment in Saipan ahead of the 2002 World Cup. His scoop got the Ir­ish cap­tain sent home, di­vid­ing the nation.

Humphries had of­ten writ­ten about the vol­un­teers who gave so much to sport in their com­mu­ni­ties. In the 1990s, he was giv­ing back to his lo­cal club where he was an en­thu­si­as­tic vol­un­teer.

Humphries was alert to the ways of sex­ual preda­tors. He wrote about Broth­ers who “once had nick­names and rep­u­ta­tions, leav­ing court­rooms with anoraks on their heads and cuffs on their wrists”, a col­umn that prompted a com­plaint from the Chris­tian Broth­ers.

He wrote about the “cun­ning of pae­dophiles”, how they can “sur­vive un­de­tected for so long” be­cause peo­ple around them are so re­luc­tant to be­lieve al­le­ga­tions. How sport, “with its youth and its trips and its op­por­tu­nity for build­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween coaches and par­tic­i­pants, is a fine feeding ground for those few sick minds who prey on kids”.

That col­umn ap­peared in 1998. Ten years later, this large man in his late 40s, who was mar­ried with two daugh­ters, had ven­tured into the feeding ground of sex­ual preda­tors.

He was by then on a panel of men­tors to var­i­ous ju­nior camo­gie teams with dif­fer­ent GAA clubs in Dublin. In 2008, he ob­tained the mo­bile phone num­ber of a 14-year-old camo­gie player and sent her a text mes­sage say­ing “don’t give up” and “keep try­ing”.

The girl later told gar­dai she didn’t know how he had got her num­ber. She pre­sumed he’d got her it through her GAA club. The mes­sage was the first of tens of thou­sands of texts Humphries would send the girl right up to March 2011, when he was fi­nally found out.

He lured her in with texts about school and sport. But ac­cord­ing to ev­i­dence out­lined in court last week, Humphries de­lib­er­ately and per­sis­tently tried to in­tro­duce sex into his re­la­tion­ship with the girl.

In 2009 he sent her im­ages of his pe­nis, which up­set her and which she deleted im­me­di­ately. She in­structed him not to send her any­thing like this again.

He backed off for a while, but the fol­low­ing year re-in­tro­duced sex into his texts to the young teenager.

0n a Sun­day morn­ing in De­cem­ber 2010, he ar­ranged to meet the girl out­side a school, the court heard. He brought her to his apart­ment in Santry, where he un­dressed her and they had oral sex. She was 16 and he was 47.

Over the fol­low­ing months, Humphries’s texts to the teenager be­came more per­sis­tent and grotesquely sex­ual.

At New Year, he texted to ask if she was “get­ting laid”. In oth­ers he talked about his gen­i­tals, such things as “be my whore” and “love to see my gal with meat in her mouth”.

Ac­cord­ing to Garda ev­i­dence, he ex­changed more than 16,000 texts with the girl, from De­cem­ber to March 2011, when he was caught and the abuse fi­nally stopped.

Garda traced the young woman on Humphries’s phone, who was logged in un­der a pseu­do­nym. She gave a de­tailed in­ter­view to gar­dai about her en­coun­ters with Humphries.

A sec­ond young woman also came for­ward, a mem­ber of a dif­fer­ent GAA club to the 16-year-old. She too knew Humphries through camo­gie and made a state­ment to gar­dai.

Humphries never re­turned to work. The Ir­ish Times said in a state­ment last week that it was ad­vised of al­le­ga­tions against Humphries in March 2011 and he had not writ­ten for the news­pa­per since then. He was sus­pended in March 2014, when he was for­mally charged, and dis­missed in March of this year, when he pleaded guilty. The dis­clo­sures were a source of “shock and dis­tress to his col­leagues”, it said.

The shock re­ver­ber­ated far be­yond The Ir­ish Times, to the pool of his sports writer col­leagues and across the na­tional me­dia gen­er­ally — for such an ad­mired and liked writer to be ac­cused of such gross abuse of power.

Humphries was not named pub­licly al­though he was iden­ti­fied by the Sun­day World in 2011. He was ar­rested and ques­tioned at Bal­ly­mun Garda Sta­tion in north Dublin in 2011. Humphries was re­leased with­out charge and a file was sent to the Direc­tor of Public Prose­cu­tions.

Al­though Humphries was charged in 2014, the case dragged on for a year and a half, a sit­u­a­tion which the young woman wrote was “an ex­tremely drain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence” for her and her fam­ily.

She also en­dured a long wait to find out whether Humphries would con­test the of­fences which would mean a trial.

She learned that she would be spared that or­deal only when he pleaded guilty to his crimes against her in March of this year.

The spe­cific charges he ad­mit­ted to were two counts of de­file­ment — en­gag­ing in a sex­ual act with a child — be­tween De­cem­ber 5, 2010 and Fe­bru­ary 9, 2011. He ad­mit­ted four counts of invit­ing a child to par­tic­i­pate in a sex­u­ally ex­plicit, ob­scene or in­de­cent act, be­tween Jan­uary 2010 and March 2011. It later emerged that a fur­ther three charges he faced re­lat­ing to a sec­ond young woman had been dropped by the Direc­tor of Public Prose­cu­tions. The de­vel­op­ment re­moved the le­gal ob­sta­cle to his be­ing named pub­licly.

How could one of the coun­try’s best-known sports writ­ers, praised for his in­sight and his wis­dom, one who had writ­ten elo­quently about child abusers and their dev­as­tat­ing legacy, have pur­sued and a groomed a 14-year-old child for sex, so ex­plic­itly and so re­lent­lessly?

So­cial me­dia com­menters have dis­missed him as a “kiddy fid­dler” and a “per­vert” on on­line fo­rums while de­bat­ing whether it’s still OK to admire his writ­ings.

In court, it was sug­gested his judge­ment may have been “im­paired”. Psy­chi­atric doc­u­ments sub­mit­ted by his bar­ris­ter, Hugh Hart­nett, to Judge Karen O’Con­nor made ref­er­ence to a “neu­rocog­ni­tive deficit” at the time of his of­fend­ing.

He had sep­a­rated from his wife. He lived alone. He suf­fered from de­pres­sion. He now suf­fers from se­ri­ous heart prob­lems and is obese. The end of his “bril­liant ca­reer” was also lamented, as of­ten hap­pens with peo­ple who fall from great heights. He “suf­fered hugely”, his bar­ris­ter said, par­tic­u­larly due to the me­dia re­ports which pil­lo­ried him.

Humphries has not been en­tirely abandoned. The sub­mis­sions to the judge in­cluded a let­ter from the chief sports writer of The Sun­day Times David Walsh which de­scribed Humphries as a “hugely re­garded, hugely re­spected na­tional fig­ure”.

A sec­ond un­named GAA sports­man spoke of his years of vol­un­tary ser­vice to the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Humphries faces a po­ten­tially lengthy jail sen­tence. De­file­ment car­ries a max­i­mum sen­tence of five years while the groom­ing charges carry a max­i­mum life sen­tence.

He has in­di­cated that he wants to suf­fer. He was ob­served flinch­ing at the ev­i­dence of his crimes which was read out in court by Garda Jar­leth Burke.

His bar­ris­ter said he did not want psy­chi­atric treat­ment. Humphries wanted to “feel the pain” as part of his pun­ish­ment.

It is his vic­tim’s pain that counts. Humphries once wrote how child abusers “wreck” young lives and the young woman he de­filed and abused at­tested to that last week. She did not want to read the let­ter of apol­ogy he of­fered in re­morse and did not want it to be read to the court.

“For years it has ru­ined my life. I suf­fer per­ma­nent flash­backs and se­vere panic at­tacks. I have had to block out my child­hood from the age of 14,” she wrote in her vic­tim im­pact state­ment.

She men­tioned feel­ings of shame, of ma­nip­u­la­tion and of be­ing phys­i­cally sick.

“I lost a trust in men, a loss of my child­hood due to the or­deal of hav­ing to deal with the po­lice, coun­sel­lors, so­lic­i­tors and so­cial work­ers all through the ages of 14 to 16. I had to deal with sex­ual en­coun­ters at such a young age with a man three times my age, which made me phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally and men­tally ill.”

Humphries will be held in cus­tody un­til Oc­to­ber 24 when he will be sen­tenced at Dublin Cir­cuit Crim­i­nal Court.

‘Sex­ual en­coun­ters at such a young age made me phys­i­cally ill’

ABUSE SHAME: Tom Humphries (54), of Corr Cas­tle, Sut­ton, Dublin, ar­riv­ing at the Crim­i­nal Courts of Jus­tice. Photo: Collins Courts

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