Anger after paedophile pensioner avoids jail sentence because of ill-health
A paedophile who walked free from court because he was too ill to go to jail sent the "wrong message to society", according to a Stormont justice committee member.
John Nolan, a former director of the Ulster Museum, sexually abused a little girl 35 years ago.
Imposing the 18-month jail term but suspending it for three years, Downpatrick Crown Court Judge Piers Grant told 82-year-old Nolan that his offending deserved a prison sentence
But he said that having read Nolan's medical reports, he was satisfied that "the court should, in the circumstances of this case, exercise considerable mercy".
Lawyers for Nolan, from Bladon Drive in Belfast, asked the judge at an earlier hearing to bar the media from revealing his identity.
But the judge refused, saying it was up to the Press to protect his victim's right to anonymity.
Last month Nolan pleaded guilty to four sex offences including two of indecent assault and two of committing acts of gross indecency with the girl on dates unknown between December 31, 1974 and April 12, 1984.
Last week defence QC John McCrudden told the judge that to send Nolan to prison "would essentially be a death sentence".
He said Nolan's physical and psychiatric health had deteriorated to such an extent recently that he was quickly becoming gripped by the onset of dementia. Judge Grant revealed that in medical reports from Nolan's GP and a consultant psychologist, both opined that sending him to the "harsh environment" of prison would have a "severe detrimental effect on his physical and mental well-being", even to the extent that he would not be able to find his way around the jail.
DUP MLA Jim Wells said: "I presume the illness is related to the fact he is an elderly man and I just think this sends the wrong message to society.
"I suspect while the young girl hasn't waived her anonymity, she has been tormented by this for many years and has been made extremely ill by the offence. But that being the case, I don't think he has the right to hide behind ill-health.
"Punishment has to be meted out, the seriousness of the crime should be the issue rather than the status of the defendant."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said: "From the public's perspective one might say why would you not lock this individual up, but actually the reality is the judge knows all of the detail."
The court had heard how, after taking the seven-year-old schoolgirl for a walk across fields near his holiday home in Killough, Co Down, Nolan laid a blanket on the ground and ordered her to strip and lie down on it before touching her intimately.
Prosecuting lawyer Sam Magee said Nolan's young victim was "crying throughout". He said when Nolan removed his own trousers and forced his terrified victim to touch him that he told her: "I'm doing this because I love you. Doesn't Daddy do this?"
Mr Magee described another occasion when the girl was aged around eight. After a sleepover at Nolan's former home on the Cavehill Road, she was ordered to strip off and get washed in the kitchen in front of him.
The final offence took place in Nolan's house when the girl was around 15 years old. Nolan grabbed her and kissed her on the lips, trying to force his tongue into her mouth.
Judge Grant told the court he was satisfied, given the historical nature of the offences and Nolan's clear record, that he was not a "sexual predator". He said that given those factors, his age and ill-health, Nolan did not pose a significant risk of harm to the public by reoffending.
As well as the suspended jail term, the judge ordered Nolan to sign the police sex offenders' register for 10 years and imposed a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.
"From the public's perspective one might say why would you not lock this individual up, but actually the reality is the judge knows all of the detail.
"It is important that the public knows that judges do have all of the detail of a case like this and we do have to rely on the judge's judgment that prison was not the proper place in all of these circumstances.
"And, indeed, the cost to the community may have been substantially higher in prison than it is out of prison.
"I suppose the consolation to the individual and the family concerned is the fact that this was a confession."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson