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Man wins sexual assault appeal after judges consider secret document

By Alan Erwin

Published 02/03/2016

Judges ruled a retrial would be oppressive given the time the man had served behind bars.
Judges ruled a retrial would be oppressive given the time the man had served behind bars.

A man jailed for sexually assaulting a woman in a tent he was living in has won his appeal against his conviction after judges considered a document, the contents of which were not disclosed in court.

Senior judges in Belfast quashed guilty verdicts returned against 46-year-old Paul Mawhinney over an alleged attack in the east of the city in March 2014.

Their decision was based on the undisclosed contents of a new document linked to the complainant.

Mawhinney had been handed an eight-year sentence after a jury at Belfast Crown Court found him guilty on two counts of sexual assault.

He was acquitted of other charges following a trial last year.

Mawhinney had denied all allegations against him, insisting any sexual contact was consensual.

At trial the jury was told he met the woman in the city centre.

She claimed that after he offered to sell her a mobile phone they walked back to his tent located near Middlepath Street, in the Bridge End area.

He then subjected her to several sexual assaults, she alleged.

As well as the eight-year custodial sentence, Mawhinney, whose address was given as HMP Maghaberry, had been ordered to serve a further two years on licence.

His legal team mounted an appeal against conviction, focusing on the veracity of the alleged victim's account.

Based on the contents of a new document provided to the Court of Appeal - which was not disclosed publicly for privacy reasons - the prosecution did not seek to stand over the guilty verdict.

A panel of three judges who studied the new material ruled that the conviction was unsafe and should be quashed.

They also concluded that it would be oppressive to have Mawhinney face a retrial due to the time already spent behind bars.

Defence solicitor Niall O'Neill said on Wednesday: "The Court of Appeal quashed my client's conviction and refused a prosecution request for a retrial on the basis that the credibility of the injured party was now diminished to such an extent it was not in the public interest to pursue a further trial.

"It also took into account the fact that Mr Mawhinney has already served the equivalent of a two-year sentence."

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