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Northern Ireland pensioner jailed for sexually abusing three young siblings wins appeal

By Alan Erwin

Published 23/02/2016

A Northern Irish pensioner jailed for subjecting three young siblings to years of sexual abuse has won an appeal against his convictions.

Senior judges ruled that irregularities in the trial process were serious enough to render the guilty verdicts unsafe.

A further decision has yet to be made on whether they order a retrial.

In 2014 the man at the centre of the case was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment at Belfast Crown Court after a jury convicted him on 14 counts of indecent assault.

Now understood to be in his seventies, he cannot be named for legal reasons.

He was accused of targeting the two girls and their brother over a period spanning from 1998 to 2006.

At the time of the alleged offences the children were aged between five and eleven.

It was claimed that he assaulted them while either babysitting or when they visited a relative he was seeing at the time.

One alleged attack took place when he brought one of the girls to his workplace.

The jury heard claims that he used a game of chase and catch as part of his alleged campaign.

Following his conviction defence lawyers went before the Court of Appeal in a bid to have all the guilty verdicts overturned.

They argued that the trial judge wrongly admitted evidence of other allegations on which their client was acquitted. 

It was further contended that the jury should have been discharged due to the way those claims were introduced.

A third ground of challenge involved a contention that a direction on cross-admissibility of evidence was wrongly given at the trial.

Lord Justice Gillen, who heard the appeal with Lord Justices Weatherup and Weir, acknowledged the legal complexities of the case would have challenged any presiding judge.

"Nonetheless, in certain areas we are satisfied that there have been material irregularities in this trial which have been capable of causing prejudice to the applicant and carried the risk of injustice," he said.

Lord Justice Gillen identified explanations given to the jury for why some charges were being dismissed, along with a further inadequate direction.

"The fact of the matter is that the applicant had denied all of these allegations of very serious criminal behaviour and he was entitled to have the jury reminded of  that  by the judge irrespective of whether this was merely background material or not," he said. 

"By themselves the prejudicial effect  was potentially enormous."

Confirming the outcome of the appeal, he added: "We are satisfied in this instance that there have been material irregularities in this trial which were so serious that this court considers the convictions were unsafe. 

"We therefore set aside the convictions on all counts and invite the submissions of counsel as to whether a retrial should be ordered."

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