Coalisland driving instructor and 'respected' GAA coach 'headbutted' wife of 21 years

Tony Hughes in 2012
Tony Hughes in 2012

A judge has heavily criticised the appalling levels of domestic violence existing at present, branding it a quiet scourge in the community, whilst sentencing a man who severely beat his wife in the presence of their daughters.

The situation was sparked by the abuser’s infidelity, which in turn put strain on the 21-year marriage, Dungannon Crown Court was told.

John Joseph Antony Hughes (50) of Mourne Crescent, Coalisland was said on one occasion to bang his ex-wife’s head repeatedly, and on calming down said it was her fault.

Two instances of brutality were reported to police, with the second occurring in the presence of the couple’s two daughters.

The court heard on 22 October 2015, Hughes - know locally as Tony - and his wife were in their home alone and were preparing to go to bed when the victim made a comment which Hughes didn’t like.

He demanded to know why she said it and proceeded to grab her by the hair and repeatedly bang her head off a cupboard. The victim was screaming for help, and managed to escape, but Hughes blocked the door.

He calmed down and told the victim: "That shouldn’t have happened. It was your fault."

The victim reported being in pain for several weeks and felt her skull would break.

Several months later on 3 March 2016, the victim was in the kitchen when Hughes returned home. She was anxious and unsure of his mood. He then demanded to know "who were the men she had been texting the previous night".

The victim told him this was not true, but Hughes "drove his head straight into her face".

She was in agony and fell to the floor, almost passing out. She was unable to open her eyes and was bleeding profusely from her nose.

The victim heard her younger daughter call out if she was ok, but she could not answer. In the meantime Hughes got a cloth and told the victim to get the blood cleaned up. At this point their daughter appeared and asked: "Is that mummy’s blood? What did you do to her?"

Hughes claimed he "just pushed the victim with his shoulder" and attempted to demonstrate this. His daughter replied: "Daddy, that’s a head-butt."

Hughes was arrested and pleaded guilty to two charges of assault. A third count of threatening to kill the victim was left on the court books.

Standing in the dock, Hughes wept openly as his defence counsel said: "This was deplorable and one cannot get away from that. My client has eventually realised the error of his ways. I do not wish to put forward a ‘road to Damascus conversion’ but he knows the extent of his actions and has fallen on is sword."

The defence said jailing Hughes would impact on the business which he had his wife ran jointly, thus putting her and their daughters under further pressure.

Judge Neil Rafferty commented: "This is one of the iniquities of domestic violence. It’s part and parcel of why many women are trapped. It becomes, ‘If I report this, how am I going to feed my children?’”

The defence pointed out Hughes is well respected in the community and holds many positions within the GAA, stating: "He participates in all levels of coaching and I have a glowing reference from the chairman of his GAA club."

Judge Rafferty commented: "It is so often the case of domestic violence. Everyone outside the home thinks what a fine chap he is. It’s when he goes indoors that the wife and children experience the real person."

He continued: "I note the defendant coaches other peoples’ children. What sort of example does it set his own two daughters who saw their mother with blood coming out of her nose?”

Turning to Hughes, Judge Rafferty said: "I, like every other judge I know in this jurisdiction, am simply appalled by the level of domestic violence. It is a scourge on the community and it is a quiet scourge, suffered in the privacy of own homes, when doors close.

"Children are not passive bystanders. They see and feel everything."

Judge Rafferty said it was for these reasons significant custodial sentences are handed down and he was considering 18 months. However he noted Hughes was appalled, ashamed and disgusted by is behaviour and had taken steps to address his anger.

"He had accepted the marriage was over and contact with his wife and daughters was lost by his own hand. The judge said: "I am taking a deep breath. I am not sending you to prison today.

"However, when you undertake the course I am sending you on as part of your sentence, you may well wish you had been sent to prison. This is an intensive course.

"There will be no excuses. You will be laid bare. There will be no hiding place."

Hughes was ordered to spend two years on a Probation Order involving the intensive course of domestic violence.

"He was also bound by a restraining order for three years, but Judge Rafferty advised that could be extended at conclusion if required. Before telling Hughes he could go, Judge Rafferty added: "If you breach any part of the order, you will be jailed for 18 months."

The court was advised victim had been contacted prior to the sentencing hearing, but had chosen not to attend.