A pervert has been jailed for 12 months after deliberately exposing and touching his penis in front of young girls while in the water at public swimming pools.
For the next ten years the 40-year-old father of two boys will have to give 48 hours’ notice to the authorities of his intention to visit a swimming pool under the terms of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
Chester Crown Court heard there were a total of 10 young female victims, aged 10, 11 and 12 at the time.
Personal statements were read to the court in which the children and their parents told of the profound distress and impact of the offences on their lives.
Prosecutor James Coutts, who outlined the case, said the incidents took place at Chester’s Northgate Arena as well as the Ellesmere Port Sports Village and the old Epic leisure centre which it replaced.
He said: “He faces sentence for specific allegations between 2014 and 2017 for different incidents at swimming pools in and around the Ellesmere Port and Chester area. In short, the defendant exposed his penis - including touching it - to a number of girls, at that stage they were 11 and 12 years of age, while he was with his son.”
One young victim recalled seeing O’Neill in the water with his penis hanging out of his shorts and ‘moving it up and down’ with his hand while supporting his little boy with his other arm.
And the court heard how he would follow those he had targeted around the pool.
A father of one of the victims said in it was a ‘disgusting abuse of trust for an adult or parent to mislead a child for their own gratification’. A mother who was at the pool with her daughter at the time the offence took place expressed the guilt she continued to feel at having been powerless to stop what happened.
She feared the impact on her child especially as she grew older and gained a deeper understanding of what had taken place. Swimming had been her daughter’s favourite hobby but she was ‘no longer as enthusiastic’.
The court heard some of the victims had undergone personality changes, including losing self-confidence. They felt more nervous about going swimming or anywhere without an adult and were suspicious when around strangers.
O’Neill’s activities had been brought to the attention of at least one sports facility but he had claimed what happened had been accidental.
He was arrested at his home address on Sunday, January 15, 2017. He originally pleaded not guilty with a trial due to start this June but changed his plea in December. A sixth charge was not pursued and will lie on the file.
Maria Masselis, defending, accepted the pattern of offending was ‘a display of worrying behaviour’.
She read a letter out loud written by her client, who appeared tearful at times, addressed to his victims and their families. She said he accepted full responsibility for his actions and was apologetic, remorseful and ‘disgusted with himself’ but unable to explain his actions.
A working man with no previous relevant convictions, he had previously been in the Armed Forces, had worked temporarily at Airbus and was last employed by Costa Coffee but had been dismissed because of the court case.
At the time of the offences he had been in a ‘stable, committed and loving’ relationship and was a ‘dedicated’ father to two sons. His relationship was now over and he no longer had contact with his sons.
In passing sentence, Judge Nicholas Woodward said: “There were 10 named victims in the five offences at three separate public swimming pools, all of which are part of leisure complexes.
“These are popular resources to a local community. It’s important that children and their parents not only are safe but they have the confidence to feel safe in such an environment.”
He said O’Neill’s actions had seriously undermined this type of resource for the victims and the wider community.
An aggravating feature was the way the defendant had used his own son as a cover for his activities.