How on Earth was he freed? Campaigners' dismay after child abuser avoids jail term
The sentence imposed on a former mountain rescue volunteer who sexually abused two young boys could deter other victims from coming forward, it was claimed last night.
A suspended jail term handed to James McEvoy, who admitted to three counts of indecent assault against the boys when they were aged around 12, has been met with a furious backlash.
His offences finally came to light almost three decades on after one of the victims broke his silence, having watched coverage of the Jimmy Savile revelations.
But while McEvoy was convicted, he avoided going to prison after a judge suspended a 12-month sentence for two years.
Victims' campaigners last night criticised the decision and called for sentencing guidelines for sex abusers to be reviewed urgently.
Michael Connolly said he believed such sentences handed down through the courts risked dissuading other victims from coming forward.
"Suspended sentences for these people should be abolished," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Considering the horrendous effect a sex assault has on the victim's life, these sentences are totally inadequate.
"Why would someone put themselves through the trauma they have to go through to get these people to court only to be insulted by seeing them practically walking free at the end of it?"
Mr Connolly was abused from the age of eight or nine and did not speak publicly about his ordeal until 40 years later.
He did so in 2011 in the hope it would encourage others to do so.
Margaret McGuickan, who also campaigns for justice for sex abuse victims, said she felt others would be prevented from speaking out by sentences such as that imposed on McEvoy.
"Victims are put through the ringer by speaking out," she said. "We keep hearing these stories and we are just so dismayed."
Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police, and remorse, as well as aggravating factors such as intent and excessive violence. One of McEvoy's victims came forward in 2012 due to the publicity surrounding Savile, while the second complainant admitted he had also been abused after he was initially questioned as a potential witness.
On Monday Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, was told the offences took place between 1984 and 1986, when McEvoy was aged around 30.
The court was told McEvoy had previously volunteered with the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team, with his lawyer saying the events had inflicted a "catastrophic dent" in his client's reputation.
McEvoy – now aged 58 and with an address at Broomfield Close in Castlewellan – also worked as a ranger for the Forestry Commission.
He initially denied the allegations against him when interviewed by police, but subsequently admitted three counts of indecent assault. Passing sentence, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said McEvoy's pleas spared his two victims the trauma of giving evidence.
As well as the 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, Judge Miller made McEvoy the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order for five years.
The Belfast Telegraph sought a comment from the Lord Chief Justice's Office but a spokeswoman was unavailable.
The court was told of an occasion when McEvoy took one of the boys out in his 4x4 to go rock climbing. He then instigated a "play fight" during which McEvoy groped the boy.
When police spoke to the victim's friend as a possible witness, he too said he had been abused by McEvoy.
Story so far
James McEvoy admitted three counts of indecent assault against the two boys, who were aged around 12 at the time of the offences. He was handed a 12-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years.
McEvoy spent almost three decades working as a volunteer with the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team. The offences were committed between 1984 and 1986. One of the victims came forward to police on the back of coverage surrounding Jimmy Savile.