Jury fails to reach a verdict in trial of priest accused of abuse
A jury has failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a young girl nearly 30 years ago.
Jurors returned to Belfast Crown Court yesterday after more than five hours of deliberations to say they could not agree on a verdict in the trial of Father Peter Donnelly.
The jury foreman said there was no prospect of them doing so.
Donnelly, from Drumaroad Hill in Castlewellan, had denied six counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency against the girl who was aged between 10 and 14 at the time of the alleged offences between July 31, 1983 and August 1, 1987.
Donnelly (69) was curate of St Matthew’s Church in Bryson Street, east Belfast, during that period. It is alleged the attacks occurred in the parochial house.
After the jury had been out for three hours, Judge Gordon Kerr QC called them back and told them he would accept a unanimous verdict.
But the foreman sent him a note saying there was stalemate among them and the judge discharged the jurors.
Judge Kerr has listed a new hearing for Friday when lawyers for the Public Prosecution Service will outline how they plan to proceed with the case.
The alleged victim, who is now 40, told the trial via a video-link that she didn’t go to police sooner with her allegations because she was afraid and blamed herself.
“But Fr Donnelly knows he done it,” she said.
Donnelly went into the witness box to deny all the allegations.
During the trial the woman told the court she was regularly in the parochial house, helping out with various duties around the church, when the priest repeatedly kissed her with “an open mouth, putting his tongue in my mouth”.
He also groped her as he rubbed himself against her in the hallway of the parochial house, she said.
At the time she described how she was “well developed” for her age, and that at times Donnelly told her she was a “lovely girl”.
But in his own evidence, Fr Donnelly said that despite the woman's claims that she was abused while performing various duties at the parochial house, no such duties were undertaken by any young girl “in my time”.
He also said that he had never been interviewed by the police about any matter, let alone any allegations of a sexual nature.