Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Teenager who raped pensioner is named after failing to have identity protected

Ryan McGreechan raped a 76-year-old woman in 2011
Ryan McGreechan raped a 76-year-old woman in 2011

A teenager who raped a pensioner months before her death can finally be named after failing in an attempt to have his identity protected.

The Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to hear Ryan McGreechan's appeal against an order lifting reporting restrictions in the case, senior judges ruled.

But even if legal authority had existed, the challenge would have been refused, as the interests of open justice were held to firmly outweigh his right to anonymity.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan (right) said: "The nature of the crime and the assessment that the offender was dangerous were particularly significant."

McGreechan, now aged 18, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for the sex attack on a 76-year-old woman in his hometown of Newtownards, Co Down.

He was aged 15 when he entered the victim's home in March 2011 and raped her.

The woman died later that year.

In July 2012 a Crown Court decided that McGreechan could be named, despite still being a juvenile at the time.

He said it was in the public interest for his identity to be known due to the gravity of his crimes.

The teenager's legal team then secured an injunction to block publication of his details until the appeal was heard.

Ruling on McGreechan's challenge yesterday, Sir Declan pointed out that the only order protecting his identity was one drawn up at a Youth Court hearing in January 2012. The move was not in keeping with the relevant legislation, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, because it only provides anonymity for complainants.

Although McGreechan could still rely on a statutory prohibition on naming him as a juvenile under the Criminal Justice (Children) Order 1998, this only applied to the Youth Court proceedings. Once the case transferred to the Crown Court, no further reporting restriction order was made.

In the appeal hearing, counsel for McGreechan claimed there was a wider interest in maintaining his anonymity. He argued that it was also about protecting society by ensuring he becomes properly reintegrated into society.

But lawyers for the BBC contended that it could threaten the media's ability to report on cases fully and contemporaneously if the rapist was not named.

The seriousness of the teenager's crimes should feature in the balance between public interest and the welfare of the child, it was contended.

In the end Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, held that there was no jurisdiction for the appeal. As McGreechan listened to the verdict via a video-link with Hydebank Young Offenders' Centre, the court also dealt with the position of children in the criminal justice system.

Sir Declan referred to local legislation and the relevant international human rights standards, which state the primary focus must be on child welfare and rehabilitation. Countering this was the public interest in full disclosure on someone convicted of such serious sexual offences.

Acknowledging the argument that publication of McGreechan's name could act as a deterrent to others, Sir Declan added: "In our view, the balancing exercise in this case came down firmly in favour of open justice.

"The nature of the crime and the assessment that the offender was dangerous were particularly significant.

"We have explained why we had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal, but if we had been asked to interfere with the decision... we would have refused to do so."

BACKGROUND

The pensioner was attacked in her Newtownards bungalow on Sunday, March 13, 2011 after she left her front door unlocked. She had been expecting a visit from her care worker. The woman died later that year.

McGreechan, who was 15 at the time, told police he had drunk half a bottle of vodka. He refused to discuss the assault.

His lawyers had argued that his name should be kept out of the public domain to give him a better chance of reintegrating into society when his sentence was over.

At the time of the attack, the pensioner said: "What he done to me, a pig wouldn't have done it."

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