Belfast Telegraph

Ex-SF councillor facing abuse trial fails to ban media

A former Sinn Fein councillor facing child cruelty and abuse charges has failed to secure a ban on publicising court proceedings against her.

Briege Meehan was seeking to postpone Press reporting of a hearing linked to allegations of gross indecency and ill-treatment stretching back 30 years.

Lawyers for the accused, who was married to late north Belfast IRA leader Martin Meehan, argued that publicity could lead to bias among jurors who may have to decide the case against her.

A judge rejected the application after ruling that reporting would not lead to a substantial risk of prejudice to the interests of justice.

Briege Meehan (64), of Elmfield Street, Belfast, faces eight charges, all allegedly committed against the same person between July 1979 and October 1980.

They include four counts of gross indecency with a child, attempted gross indecency, two counts of indecent assault on a female child, and cruelty to a person aged under 16.

Meehan, a former Newtownabbey councillor who was suspended by Sinn Fein, denies the charges and any allegations of wrong-doing.

She attended Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday for a planned preliminary inquiry to decide if she should be returned for Crown Court trial. Her alleged victim sat two rows behind her in the public gallery.

As the hearing was put back for a month, Meehan's barrister applied to postpone reporting under the Contempt of Court Act.

Mark McGarrity claimed there has been “an inordinate amount of reporting” of the allegations. The barrister added that the alleged victim had given interviews to media outlets “who would appear sympathetic to her”.

He said that if the no-publicity order wasn’t made it would be difficult to swear in an unbiased jury. A Public Prosecution Service representative said it was maintaining a neutral position.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall balanced the need for a fair trial against the principle of open justice. Finding that publicity would not lead to a major risk of prejudice, she said: “I do not believe reporting restrictions should be applied in this case.”

The judge pointed out that Meehan's legal team could still mount a new application at a later stage.

After her decision, Mr McGarrity told the court: “The defendant will deny any alleged wrong-doing.”

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