Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Breige Meehan handed suspended sentence for child cruelty

Breige Meehan leaves Laganside Courts today
Breige Meehan leaves Laganside Courts today
Breige Meehan's stepdaughter Mary is comforted outside Laganside Courts
Breige Meehan's stepdaughter Mary is comforted outside Laganside Courts

Former Sinn Fein councillor Briege Meehan who admitted abusing her stepdaughter 34 years ago was allowed to walk free from court today on a suspended jail term.

The 66-year-old former Newtownabbey councillor admitted charges of cruelty and assaulting her stepdaughter Mary, while her north Belfast IRA boyfriend, Martin Meehan, was either evading arrest or in prison.

She had originally faced seven charges of sexually abusing her stepdaughter but they were not proceeded with.

Belfast Crown Court heard that at the time of the offences between July 1979 and October the following year, an eight-month pregnant Meehan had been left to look after the IRA chief's three children.

When suspending her nine-month jail term for two years, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said: "The defendant is 66 years of age.  The offences were over 30 years ago.  There is no evidence she presents any danger to children or anyone else.

"There is a low risk of her offending.  I do not consider it necessary that she should serve these sentences immediately and think it is proper to suspend them," he added.

However, earlier Judge Kerr had said while a remorseful Meehan had "expressed shame at her loss of control", reports also indicated the former councillor, "has no sense of empathy or emotional concern" for Mary and the position she found herself in as a youngster with one parent dead and the other missing.

Last week, QC Frank O'Donoghue said the prosecution was on the basis of an agreed set of written facts to the background of her wilful ill-treatment and neglect of Mary and the assaults on her.

Mr O'Donoghue said the first assault related to an incident when Mary was tidying up, but apparently not quick enough for Meehan, who hit her over the head with a bag containing a glass baby's bottle, knocking her unconscious.  The wound later required to be stitched.

The second assault referred to an incident of the then youngster being hit by a brush or a shoe which had been thrown at her.
The lawyer said the child was eventually rescued by Social Services who placed her into care in October 1980.

The prosecution lawyer also told the court how Mary suffered from instances of bed wetting but that her stepmother "forced her to sleep on the wet sheets". On another occasions, when caught smoking, she was forced to smoke an unknown number of cigarettes as punishment.

Defence QC Karen Quinlivan argued that while it was a serious matter, the level of physical abuse was "at the lower end of the scale" for which Meehan had been widely criticised in the media and her own community.

The offences were committed while Meehan, was the then girlfriend of Martin Meehan while he was on remand in prison on IRA kidnapping charges for which he was eventually jailed for 12 years. Mr Meehan, who died in 2007, was also the first person to be convicted of membership of the Provisional IRA.

Meehan herself, went on to be elected as Newtownabbey's first Sinn Fein councillor in 2001 and again in 2005.  However she was suspended from the post after the allegations of abuse first surfaced in February 2009.

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