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Judge 'deeply disturbed' by sexual assault 'sharking' claims

Man is charged with sexually assaulting three women in street and recording it on mobile phone

By Paul Higgins

Published 15/05/2015

Padraig O'Neill arriving at Newtownards Court in the back of a police car, charged with sexually assaulting three women in what he claimed were 'sharking' incidents. Pic Justin Kernoghan
Padraig O'Neill arriving at Newtownards Court in the back of a police car, charged with sexually assaulting three women in what he claimed were 'sharking' incidents. Pic Justin Kernoghan

A man has been charged with sexually assaulting three women in what he claimed were "sharking" incidents, described by the judge as "deeply disturbing."

Standing in the dock of Newtownards Magistrates Court handcuffed to a prison officer, 18-year-old Padraig O'Neill spoke only to confirm that he understood the three charges against him.

O'Neill, from the Oldpark Road in Lisburn, faces three charges of sexual assault, one relating to 12th May and the other two alleged to have occurred on May 13th this year.

Giving evidence to the court, a detector constable said he believed he could connect O'Neill to the charges, adding that police had "major concerns" regarding his potential release on bail.

He revealed that as well as the three allegations, police were investigating two similar incidents which happened at the start of April which O'Neill was suspected of.

The officer described how O'Neill was arrested just after 9pm on Wednesday evening 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 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 O'Neill, who stared at the floor of the dock throughout the ten minute hearing, claimed during police questioning 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.

He revealed that "I have been made aware this morning of two further incidents in early April with a similar Modus Operandi and similar description in South Belfast."

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".

Defence solicitor Darren Duncan submitted that O'Neill could be released on stringent bail conditions as his father would be keeping very close supervision on him.

"Whilst it would not be house arrest, he would be under constant supervision from his father," said the lawyer adding that the allegations had come as a "complete shock" to O'Neill's family.

Adjourning the bail application and remanding O'Neill into custody to appear again next Friday, District Judge Barney McElholme said he would want the defendant to be psychiatrically assessed before considering any release.

"It is a deeply disturbed chain of events," said the judge, "my first duty is to protect the public from harm and I'm deeply concerned that anyone aged 18 would think it is some sort of game for the web to attack a complete stranger, a young female and humiliate her in this way for the purpose of raising a laugh.

"I don't think any civilised country would allow that."

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