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Fourth charge put to Lisburn teen accused of sexual assault by 'sharking'

By Paul Higgins

Published 02/10/2015

Pacemaker press 02/10/15 Padraig O'Neill [wearing sunglasses ] leave's Newtownards court house. Picture Pacemaker press
Pacemaker press 02/10/15 Padraig O'Neill [wearing sunglasses ] leave's Newtownards court house. Picture Pacemaker press

A Lisburn teenager already facing accusations of sexually assaulting three women in the street had a fourth charge levelled at him today.

Previous courts have heard that while initially charged with three offences of sexual assault on what the defendant described as incidents of 'sharking', police suspected 19-year-old Padraig O'Neill of assaulting other lone females.

Today at Newtownards Magistrates Court, a fourth accusation was formally put to O'Neill.

O'Neill, from the Oldpark Road in Lisburn, is charged with sexually assaulting four women on 7 April, 12 May and two allegations relating to 13 May this year.

While delivery driver O'Neill claims the incident were 'sharking' stunts, an online craze whereby victims clothes are pulled down and videoed to be posted online, the police and prosecution say they were sexually motivated.

Giving evidence to the court when O'Neill was first charged in May, a detective constable said police had "major concerns" regarding the offences and O'Neill being granted bail while the judge that day, District Judge Barney McElholme, said the incidents were "deeply disturbing."

The officer revealed that as well as the three allegations, cops were investigating two similar incidents which happened at the start of April which O'Neill was suspected of as they had a "similar Modus Operandi" and were apparently committed by a man with a similar description.

The officer described how O'Neill was arrested just after 9pm on Wednesday May 13 after an alleged victim made a 999 call regarding an alleged sexual assault on the Ballycrochan Road in Bangor.

She told police she had been walking her four small dogs when a man, allegedly the defendant, came up from behind her, "wrestled" her to the ground before pulling down her trousers and pants and "sexually attacked her by touching her between the legs."

Two passers-by saw her struggling with O'Neill and managed to detain him until police arrived and arrested him, initially for attempted rape.

The detective said leading on from that enquiry, police questioned O'Neill about a second incident which had happened on Elm Street in south Belfast at 9.15pm on Tuesday evening when a lone female was again grabbed from behind and forced to the ground.

"The defendant is then alleged to have pulled up the injured party's dress that she was wearing as she was forced down on her knees," claimed the cop alleging that O'Neill also tried to "pull her underwear off."

Shouting for help, the alleged victim heard O'Neill "laughing at her" and she noticed that "he was recording the incident on a mobile phone."

Her assailant ran off when local residents came to help the woman who was left with scrapes and bruises to her knees.

The constable recounted that "within a few hours" of that incident, in the early hours of Wednesday, another woman was assaulted, this time on Elgin Street, also in the south of the city.

Grabbed by both arms from behind, she was also forced to the ground where her assailant, allegedly O'Neill, "immediately started to pull her trousers down" so she shouted for help and again, the attacker ran off when local residents came to the woman's aide.

The cop told the court that during police questioning, O'Neill claimed the incidents were not sexually motivated but were what's known as "sharking" where items of a persons clothing are pulled down and the incident is recorded to be posted on the internet.

In relation to police objections to bail, the detective said he had "major concerns" about O'Neill being released as there was a fear that "he will continue to offend and carry out further attacks," highlighting that he had allegedly committed three such attacks within a 24 hour period, all on busy streets.

The officer further revealed that O'Neill had "indicated a certain degree of remorse, albeit that he isn't making full admissions" and that he had requested counselling but he added that "there's a clear indication that he is not completely right in his mindset.

Those fears were repeated at Belfast High Court when prosecuting lawyer Kate McKay said O'Neill had claimed "he did not get sexual gratification" from the alleged attacks.

"He confirmed that he did it as a buzz, but afterwards, when he watched the video back he felt regret and deleted the videos within 12 hours," said the lawyer.

At Ards court today a prosecuting lawyer submitted there is a Prima Facie case against O'Neill and as his defence solicitor had no contrary submissions, District Judge Paul Copeland said he was satisfied there was sufficient evidence to refer the case to the Crown Court.

O'Neill was told that although not obliged to, he could comment on the charges, give evidence to the Preliminary Enquiry himself or call witnesses on his behalf but that anything said "will be written down and maybe given in evidence at your trial."

The teenager however chose to remain silent.

Releasing O'Neill on continuing bail, Judge Copeland ordered him to appear before Downpatrick Crown Court on November 10 for arraignment.

Although his solicitor applied for legal aid to be extended to allow for a senior QC to be instructed to defend the case, revealing that a report from consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Ian Bownes formed part of the application.

In granting legal aid for a junior barrister, Judge Copeland said he would defer the decision on a QC to the sitting Crown Court judge.

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