Belfast Telegraph

Ex-principal unfit for trial on sex abuse charges, court told

By John Cassidy

A judge will rule next week on whether the former head teacher of a Co Antrim school is fit to stand trial on historical child abuse allegations.

Richard Duffin (78), formerly of Ballysallagh Road, Cargan, is awaiting trial on eight counts of indecent assault, cruelty to children under the age of 16, and two counts of common assault.

The offences are alleged to have taken place between June 1975 and June 1981 against three males while he was head teacher of St Joseph's Primary School in Ballymena.

He "robustly'' denies all the charges.

Yesterday at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, his defence team advanced an abuse of process application. They claimed Mr Duffin was not fit to stand trial due to a number of medical conditions and asked for a stay in the proceedings against him.

His counsel Neil Connor QC said Mr Duffin faced charges dating back 42 years and he was now a man of "advanced years of 78''.

He told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that the pensioner was interviewed five times by police in 2013, and said that for whatever reason "it has taken some time to get this case to court''.

"During the course of these interviews he was able to answer the questions and participate in the interviews,'' said Mr Connor.

"But since then his condition has rapidly deteriorated. In fact, my instructing solicitor spoke coherently with him in September last year and he was able to attend court with the help of a walking aid.

"However, he is now confined to a wheelchair and remains in that wheelchair throughout the day until he goes to bed.''

Mr Connor said that, according to medical reports, Mr Duffin suffered from a number of conditions, including Parkinson's disease, "which is at an advanced stage'', and epilepsy.

The reports also stated that he suffered a stroke in 2014 - a year after he was interviewed by police - and had previously suffered three heart attacks.

"He was hospitalised in 2016 and as a result he is incapable of looking after himself and has been in a nursing home ever since. His condition has deteriorated over the last three to four years," said Mr Connor.

"I have attempted to consult with him this morning. He can indicate 'yes' and 'no', but in terms of any interview, it is hard to make out what he is actually saying.

"There are times when he is more articulate than others and it is very difficult to predict whether he will be able to take part in the court proceedings and instruct his lawyers with his defence.''

A doctor's report for the defence stated that he did not believe Mr Duffin would be fit to stand trial and also instruct his lawyers during his trial.

Prosecution counsel Tessa Kitson objected to any stay in the proceedings, saying that measures could be put in place to assist Mr Duffin with his trial given his ongoing medical conditions.

She said such measures included the use of a registered intermediary, his interviews could be played to the jury, and he could be given regular breaks during the trial.

Judge Kerr said that he wanted to "consider all the papers in the case'' before giving his ruling on the abuse of process application next Monday.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph