Belfast Telegraph

Pervert's identity to remain a secret due to judge's mistake

By CHRIS KILPATRICK

Judges have been reminded they have no powers to gag the Press in cases involving sex offenders – after an error prevented one of Northern Ireland's worst abusers from ever being publicly identified.

The 44-year-old, from Co Londonderry, subjected a homeless girl to three years of gratuitous sexual violence from the age of 15.

This included dipping her head in cooking oil before brutally raping her.

But the sadistic abuser can never be named after a judge mistakenly ordered the media not to identify him in reports of the case.

Judge Philip Babington cited fears that could lead to the identification of the victim.

However, it is for the media, not the judiciary, to ensure the anonymity of victims is protected in cases involving sexual abuse.

The error means the abuser can never be unmasked. The Lord Chief Justice's Office yesterday admitted the judge had no grounds to impose such a banning order.

"The trial judge was keen to ensure that nothing would be published that could identify the victim in this case," said a spokeswoman for the Lord Chief Justice's Office.

"He was asked by the prosecution to order that the defendant could not be identified as he and the victim had been living together at the time of the offences.

"The judge acceded to this request and it was recorded on the court system as an order under section one of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.

"Judges have been reminded that where anything which might be reported about the defendant could have the effect of identifying the complainant, it is for the Press to ensure that the provisions of the 1992 Act are complied with."

The media can usually identify defendants in sex cases provided reports do not identify victims.

The young woman was previously girlfriend to the man's son.

As details of the case are already in the public domain, naming him now could lead to the identification of the victim.

He was jailed for 12 years for the wicked catalogue of crimes.

The abuse of the teen began when she was just 15 years of age and continued until 2009.

Included in the 19 charges against the abuser were that he stubbed cigarettes out on her body, ripped her earrings out and threw her out of a house when she was naked.

Public interest has not been served

By Tony Jaffa

Despite being one of the worst sexual offenders Northern Ireland has ever seen, why is this criminal enjoying anonymity?

Well, the answer lies mainly in the need to ensure the victim remains anonymous, but also because of the reporting restriction order made by the judge.

What usually happens is that news reports of sexual offence cases give the name of the accused, but do not name the victim or include any information which could result in their being identified. This is common UK practice.

But in this case, the judge went further – and therein lies the problem.

Now, because the judge's gag order has been ruled invalid, the abuser is cloaked in anonymity. And the chances are that this violent criminal's name will never, ever be revealed.

We will never know what the victim thinks about this state of affairs, but for the rest of us, one thing is clear– the public interest has not been well served.

Solicitor Tony Jaffa advises newspapers and web publishers

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