A sex abuse charity has branded as unbelievable a court decision to free a church elder who sexually abused a child — because he was too fat to go to jail.
At Antrim Crown Court yesterday disgraced 30-stone John William McConaghy was sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars for the abuse that began when the girl was just 10 years old. But the jail term was suspended as the judge ruled that his obesity meant he would not receive proper care in prison.
His victim, now aged 44, told the Belfast Telegraph that she bravely gave evidence against McConaghy because he had never shown any remorse for his actions.
Wheelchair-bound McConaghy was convicted of a series of charges of indecently assaulting the girl over an eight-year period, which started when she was of primary school age.
Eileen Kelly from the Rape Crisis Centre said: “I don’t care whether they had to put this man in the hospital wing, he should have gone to prison.”
Judge David Smyth ordered the morbidly obese paedophile, from Urbal Road in Dervock, to pay £10,000 after stating he was freeing McConaghy given the “wholly exceptional circumstances” surrounding his health.
“I am satisfied that your health, your lack of mobility and the ulcerations of your legs, together with the need for frequent dressings, when considered with the likely extent of the arrangements that would have to be made to accommodate you in prison, constitutes wholly exception circumstances that permit me to suspend an otherwise essential custodial sentence,” he explained.
Judge Smyth added that the impact on his victim had been “tempered by the fact” that McConaghy had not only excluded himself from his Gospel hall, but he had also “been excluded from that church”.
McConaghy — who is believed to weigh in excess of 30 stone — had denied all the charges against him.
Throughout his 10-day trial the 66-year-old, who became a church elder in 1977 and was a Sunday school teacher for more than 30 years, maintained his innocence, claiming the accusations arose when he was stripped of his position as an elder after “having gossiped” about members of the congregation in 2001.
When questioned about the allegations during his trial, he told the court: “I totally deny them... that's untrue... it never happened, never... I says that's totally untrue... that's completely false.”
His victim — now aged 44 — was forced to give evidence and convinced the jury that he had subjected her to horrific abuse spanning eight years after revealing details of the attacks in court.
She described how over the years she had “a better than even chance of being touched on my boobs or a hand put up my skirt” by the church elder.
The abuse ended when she was about 18 after she fought back on one occasion and scratched pervert McConaghy in the face, she told the court.
In October, wheelchair-bound McConaghy was convicted of all but one of 21 charges of indecently assaulting the girl between May 1975 and May 1983. He was immediately placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.