Belfast Telegraph

Mary's agony as her stepmother Briege Meehan avoids jail

Former Sinn Fein councillor sentenced for cruelty shows no remorse

BY MICHAEL DONNELLY

Former Sinn Fein councillor Briege Meehan's stepdaughter has rejected claims by her former guardian that she is sorry for subjecting her to prolonged bouts of cruelty as a child.

Meehan, who knocked the 10-year-old unconscious and also forced her to smoke and to sleep in a wet bed, walked free from court yesterday with a suspended jail term.

The former Newtownabbey councillor admitted cruelty and assault against Mary, while her north Belfast IRA chief husband-to-be, Martin Meehan, was evading arrest or in prison.

Outside court Kevin Meehan read a statement on his sister's behalf in which she said Meehan's crimes had finally caught up with her and that the sentencing would enable her to move on with her life.

Mary also claimed Meehan displayed nothing but callous disregard for what happened, and rejected any suggestion she had shown regret.

Meehan (66), it was said, had demonised her through a web of lies and deceipt despite her crimes being exposed by her own guilty pleas.

However, while Mary said the court case would help bring her closure, Meehan had yet to offer her any apology. As Meehan left court, she told reporters: "No comment."

She originally faced seven charges of sexually abusing her stepdaughter but they were not proceeded with and were "left on the books".

Belfast Crown Court heard an eight-month pregnant Meehan had been left to look after the IRA chief's three children when the offences took place between July 1979 and October 1980.

Judge Gordon Kerr QC told Meehan that given her age and guilty pleas, clear record, "the circumstances in which she found herself" and the time taken over the case, "considerable discounts" in her sentence were proper.

Suspending her nine-month jail term for two years, he added: "There is no evidence she presents any danger to children or anyone else.

"I do not consider it necessary that she should serve these sentences immediately."

However, he said while Meehan had "expressed shame at her loss of control", reports also indicated she "has no sense of empathy or emotional concern" for Mary and the position she found herself in as a youngster with one parent dead and the other missing.

Last week Frank O'Donoghue QC said the prosecution was on the basis of an agreed set of facts to the background of her wilful ill-treatment, neglect and assaults against Mary.

He said the first assault related to an incident when Mary was tidying up, but apparently not quick enough for Meehan, who hit her over the head with a bag containing a glass baby's bottle, knocking her unconscious. The wound later required stitches.

The second assault happened when the child was hit by a brush or a shoe which had been thrown at her by Meehan.

The prosecutor also told the court how Mary suffered from instances of bedwetting but was "forced to sleep on the wet sheets" by Meehan. On another occasion, when caught smoking, she was forced to smoke an unknown number of cigarettes as punishment.

The lawyer said the child was eventually rescued by social services who put her into care in October 1980. A medical at the time revealed she had 20 bruises from Meehan.

The offences were committed while Meehan was the then girlfriend of Martin Meehan while he was in prison on IRA kidnapping charges for which he was eventually jailed for 12 years.

His second wife was suspended as a councillor after the abuse claims surfaced in 2009.

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