A secondary school teacher who preyed on a young schoolgirl by engaging in sexually explicit conversations with her on Instagram over a 12-month period has been given a three-year jail sentence with the final two years suspended.
John Murphy (42), a married father of one from Ferncourt Crescent, Ballycullen in Dublin, had pleaded guilty to a charge of the sexual exploitation of the then 15-year-old victim on dates between June 2017 and June 2018.
The Galway native, who was a teacher of mathematics and science in a school in Tallaght at the time of the offence, also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of the possession of child pornography between December 2007 and December 2010.
A sitting of Wicklow Circuit Criminal Court had previously heard Murphy, who resigned from his teaching job in 2022, had during text changes with the girl on Instagram asked her for naked pictures of herself and told her that he wanted to be the one to take her virginity.
While no images of the girl were found on Murphy’s computer, she told gardaí that she had sent images of her in her underwear to the accused.
At a sentence hearing on Friday, Judge Corman Quinn said Murphy’s online exchanges with the girl had been “peppered with explicit sexual conversations” which had escalated over time.
The judge accepted that Murphy, who was 36 when he began contact with the girl, had never made any concrete plans to try and meet his victim in person.
He also noted that the accused had no previous criminal convictions and had cooperated with gardaí and provided them with passwords to his devices.
The judge said an aggravating factor in the case was the gap in ages between the parties.
The court heard the girl, who lived in Co Wicklow, had initially told Murphy she was 17, but shortly after they began texting told him she was 16 when she was actually 15.
Judge Quinn said it was clear from a victim impact statement provided by the girl that she had been severely affected by the offences.
While Murphy might not have known his victim was a specifically vulnerable child, the judge said, as a teacher, he should have known anyone of that age was vulnerable, but instead he had preyed upon that.
In his favour, the judge acknowledged that Murphy had entered an early guilty plea and had not raised the issue of a recent court ruling over the need to specifically note computers and other devices in applications for search warrants.
Murphy had also offered an unreserved apology to his victim and expressed his sincere remorse.
The judge also accepted that Murphy had suffered the loss of his career as a teacher, as well as some adverse publicity.
He noted that a probation report had expressed concern that the offending had taken place while he was employed in a position with responsibility over children.
The court had previously heard that a probation report had also remarked that Murphy had some “in-built hostility to women”.
Judge Quinn said the victim in the case should be commended and had “did absolutely nothing wrong” as she had been “preyed upon by the accused”.
The judge also praised the girl’s mother for being vigilant and acting on her “very good instinct” and taking screenshots of the offending texts.
“She acted with great intelligence in doing all these things,” the judge remarked.
Judge Quinn sentenced Murphy to three years in prison for the offence of sexual exploitation of a child contrary to Section 3 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, but suspended the final two years on a number of conditions.
They included that Murphy submit himself to the direction of the Probation Service for a period of two years upon release from prison and to provide the authorities with his contact details and his address and of any changes to them.
Other conditions included a prohibition on him having any unsupervised access to children and the requirement to participate in a therapeutic programme for sexually harmful offending.
Murphy’s name will also be placed on the register of sex offenders.
Judge Quinn also sentenced Murphy to a 12-month prison sentence for the child pornography offence, to run concurrently.