A man who raped his wife's 14-year-old sister has been given a suspended sentence after a judge ruled that imprisonment would impose extreme hardship on the rapist's family.

Two of the 52-year-old man's young sons have autism and require 24-hour care and attention. A third child has many health issues.

Following a four day trial in February the man was convicted by a jury at the Central Criminal Court of raping the victim on two occasions and of indecently assaulting her on two other occasions over an eight month period between September 1985 and May 1986.

He was 24 at the time. He had denied all charges and had been remanded in custody on conviction pending his sentence.

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan suspended a seven year prison sentence on the rape charges for a period of five years because of the "wholly exceptional" circumstances of the case.

In a ten-page judgment, he ruled that that it wa in the interest of society and of the man's family that this family unit is "preserved and supported" because of the level of care required by the children.

He said that, in considering the appropriate sentence, the most important matter the court must acknowledge is the huge suffering endured by the woman as a result of the rape.

In her victim impact statement, which was read out at a previous hearing, the victim said it was hard to find words for the "contagious and insidious effect" that the abuse had had on every aspect of her life, or to describe the "pain, trauma, loss and sadness" that she continues to feel every day.

The now 41-year-old woman said that the rape had "stolen her teenage years and her curiosity for life" and that all of a sudden things like school, sport and friends had become irrelevant to her.

"I just wanted to die because he caused me so much pain, anguish and turmoil. Part of me was stolen, killed and lost forever," she said. "I will have to live with this invasion of my body all my life."

Mr Justice Sheehan said that the offences lie at the top end of the mid-range of the scale and that seven years was the appropriate sentence in the absence of any mitigating factors.

He said that the absence of any other convictions and the fact that the defendant had "self rehabilitated" since the offences were committed 27 years ago were significant mitigating factors.

In relation to the man's present family circumstances the judge noted a report from a teacher of one of the man’s children which stated that the child's behaviour and progress has already rapidly deteriorated since his father's imprisonment.

The judge said he had to take into account the seriousness of the crimes as well as the special demands of the man's young family which requires his full time presence as an active father.

He said: "Imprisonment...will impose extreme hardship on his family, particularly on his partner and his son.”