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Man cleared of schoolgirl sex abuse in legal battle to stop PSNI disclosing case details in applications to work with children

By Alan Erwin

A man cleared of sexually abusing a schoolgirl has received fresh hope in his legal battle to stop the PSNI disclosing details of the case in applications to work with children.

The High Court has already ruled that the planned interference with his privacy was proportionate.

However, appeal judges today directed that a new ground of challenge based on his right to be presumed innocent should also be examined.

The 26-year-old man at the centre of proceedings cannot be named for legal reasons.

He was charged with 11 separate sexual offences against a girl when she was aged between 12 and 14.

She claimed they had been in a relationship from August 2008 to November 2010, which involved having sex in his car and at his mother's house while she was away on holiday.

He denied all allegations, insisting their friendship was platonic and that he had been a brother figure to her.

In 2013 a jury at Belfast Crown Court unanimously acquitted the man of every charge after hearing evidence from both him and his accuser.

Nearly a year later he applied for two jobs involving contact with children: as a care assistant at a specialist school, and a community organisation volunteer.

Due to the type of work he had to obtain an Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate listing any convictions and information police believe relevant enough for inclusion.

The PSNI decided it should disclose details of his prosecution and acquittal.

Lawyers for the man mounted a judicial review challenge to the move, claiming it breached his rights to private life under European law.

Delivering judgment in the case last year, Mr Justice Maguire held that the proposed disclosure was justified.

He recognised that including details on the certificate will probably represent a "killer blow" to the man's job prospects.

Despite the unanimous acquittal, he pointed to the decision maker's belief that the allegations had been accurate.

He ruled that disclosure was necessary to secure the objective of protecting young people.

A challenge to that verdict was set to get underway at the Court of Appeal today.

However, it emerged that the man's challenge has now widened to claim the police's decision-making process interfered with his rights to the fair trial.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan directed that the case should be returned to the High Court for a determination on the new point.

Speaking later, the man's lawyer, Eoghan McKenna of MSM Solicitors, said: "Our client is grateful that the initial court will further consider this fresh ground of challenge around his right to a fair trail, and we look forward to the hearing in due course."

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