Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Stress caused solicitor to film teenager changing at pool, hearing is told

Lawyer ‘wanted to be caught’

Richie MacRitchie: took video of teenager in pool changing cubicle

A solicitor who filmed a 17-year-old woman changing in a leisure centre was suffering from chronic stress and wanted to get caught, a psychiatrist claimed yesterday.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court also heard Richie MacRitchie (33) was up to £100,000 in debt when he carried out the alleged offence of attempted voyeurism.

The charge against him followed an incident where he used his mobile phone to record a woman in the cubicle next to him at the Falls Leisure Centre in the west of the city.

MacRitchie, who practises in Belfast and lives at Ardmullan, Omeath, Co Louth, was originally acquitted of voyeurism despite admitting to having filmed four clips.

The original direction of no case to answer was due to the woman wearing a bikini when the recordings were made in October 2006. Because of this it was decided she was not engaged in a private act according to the Sexual Offences Act.

But the Court of Appeal later ordered the prosecution of MacRitchie to proceed on a charge of attempted voyeurism.

As the case resumed District Judge Fiona Bagnall heard the only real dispute centred on whether the clips were taken for MacRitchie’s sexual gratification.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Graeme McDonald, who examined him after his arrest, told the court that the accused appeared preoccupied with personal and professional problems, expressing feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.

MacRitchie had been forced to start court proceedings in the Irish Republic to gain access to his daughter when his ex-partner moved to Dublin, Mrs Bagnall was told.

Defence barrister Eilis McDermott QC also revealed: “At the time of the alleged offence he was in debt to the amount of between £80,000 to £100,000 and considered bankruptcy, but that proved difficult if he was going to continue working as a solicitor.”

The court heard MacRitchie, who had been working as a non-profit making lawyer based at Conway Mill in Belfast, then joined another firm and took on extra duties.

Dr McDonald said the solicitor described moving to Omeath as a way of solving both sets of difficulties, but that this had probably increased both.

He told the court: “I do not believe the prime motivation was sexual gratification, nor did I think he wished to cause harm to anyone.

“I believe a significant part of him wished to be detected in his actions.”

The psychiatrist, who works for the Belfast Health Trust, said at the time of the alleged offence MacRitchie was suffering from an acute stress reaction.

He found no evidence of evasion or self-justification by the accused, the court was told.

“Fundamentally I believe that Mr MacRitchie was in an acute state of distress ... and that he set out to act in this manner consciously or unconsciously to harm himself.”

Dr McDonald, who claimed the solicitor would benefit from psychotherapy, accepted he could not rule out a sexual motivation but could find no specific evidence of it.

However, prosecuting counsel David McClean argued that common sense suggested this had fuelled MacRitchie’s actions.

“This is a case where the facts very much speak for themselves. We are not talking about someone who has taken one clip, we are talking about someone who has taken four,” Mr McClean said.

“It’s fairly clear he was trying to take pictures of her in the nude.” Dr McDonald insisted there was no evidence of MacRitchie fitting either of two categories of sexual offender who normally engage in voyeurism — the psychopathic and aggressive, or the immature.

He added: “There’s no evidence of Mr MacRitchie finding it difficult to start relationships. No evidence of sexual identity difficulties, no evidence he was in a state of undress or disheveled or aroused either sexually or otherwise.”

Despite his assessment, Mr McClean argued that it was important that the accused made clear during interview he had no interest in filming a child who was also in the next cubicle.

“He’s clearly indicated that his sexual preference is adult and heterosexual,” the barrister claimed.

Mr McClean further argued that an adverse inference could be drawn from MacRitchie’s decision not to give evidence at the hearing. But Mrs McDermott countered this by insisting there was nothing in that to allow the court to reach the standard of proof required to convict — beyond reasonable doubt.

After hearing both sides, Mrs Bagnall said she wanted to study medical reports before delivering judgment at a later date.

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