Belfast Telegraph

McPeake in hiding over abuse charges

By Bob Malcolm

Well-known folk musician Francis McPeake III is living in a secret address while he awaits court proceedings child sex abuse charges.

The 71 year old head of the city's leading traditional music family's has been accused of 12 charges against one girl under 16 years on both sides of the border.

A crowd of some 60 people gathered outside his Eliza Street Close home when word of the charges got out a few weeks ago and a magistrate imposed a ban on his name being published for fears that his life was at risk.

Riot squad police had to disperse the crowd, who had arrived after details of the case against McPeake appeared on Facebook and in a Sunday newspaper. The accused faces a total of 12 charges involving alleged offences committed during 2009 and 2010.

Some of the alleged offences occurred in the Republic of Ireland and others in the Belfast area.

A temporary ban on identifying McPeake was imposed when he first appeared before Belfast Magistrates' Court to allow his legal team time to seek a full prohibition. Defence lawyers then argued naming their client would breach his rights to life and freedom from torture, punishment and inhuman treatment. It was claimed that McPeake is different from other defendants because he is so well-known.

However, on Thursday, his lawyers said they were not challenging a decision to lift reporting restrictions.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall accepted there would be a real and immediate risk to his life if he was to return to his home address.

But she refused to grant full reporting restrictions on the basis that he has now moved to a different, unidentified location.

In a ruling given on Tuesday Judge Bagnall said: "The evidence before me suggests the threat has come from the defendant's immediate locality.

"There is no verifiable or objective evidence that the level of threat would be replicated if he were to reside elsewhere."

Pointing out that McPeake has already been named in print and social media coverage, she said: "the identity of the defendant is obviously well-known in the Markets area".

She added: "In those circumstances it's likely those who are likely to pose a verifiable threat to the defendant already know his identity.

"Therefore publishing his name will not materially increase the threat to the defendant."

McPeake, whose new address cannot be revealed, then entered the dock for a preliminary inquiry hearing.

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