Belfast Telegraph

'Revenge porn' man's appeal is rejected as judge blasts defence's probing of victim

By Staff Reporter

A man who posted sexually explicit photographs of a woman on Facebook is in custody after losing his appeal against conviction.

Judge Neil Rafferty QC threw out the appeal by Rory McLaughlin (31), of Cooneen Road, Brookeborough, against his suspended prison term for harassment following a hearing at Dungannon County Court.

The victim broke down in the witness box during cross-examination, which the judge said aimed to "demean and degrade" her.

He expressed concern that the matter was previously dealt with by a suspended sentence, and in a surprise move ordered the defendant to be remanded in custody while reports are prepared.

Earlier this year McLaughlin was convicted of harassing his ex-partner between August 2012 and December 2015 by various means - including setting up a fake Facebook account with sexually explicit photographs.

The victim had already been through the process of cross-examination at Enniskillen Magistrates Court when McLaughlin was found guilty and given a three-month suspended jail term.

However, he refused to accept the finding and launched an appeal that failed, and may even see his sentence increased.

The victim, who lives in England, returned to go through a rerun of the hearing in which she said McLaughlin, the father of her small child, had blackmailed and harassed her by threatening to disclose a previous part of her life that she referred to as "a dark secret".

McLaughlin accessed the victim's computer and found material which he posted on a Facebook page he created specifically to upset the victim. He admitted being aggrieved at not being able to see his daughter as often as he wanted, as she lives with her mother across the Irish Sea.

In cross-examination of the victim, the defence questioned why she did not have any evidence of blackmail. She steadfastly maintained all material had been passed to police.

But the defence persisted, to the point that Judge Rafferty intervened, telling the victim she was not required to answer irrelevant questions. He also advised the defence that the victim "is a witness and is not responsible for putting together the PPS case".

The defence began a further round of questioning specifically about the victim's "dark secret", but she became very upset, pleading to know what relevance this had with being blackmailed.

When the defence attempted to push further, the victim broke down completely and, sobbing uncontrollably, said: "I can't do this any more."

Judge Rafferty called a halt and told the victim to take a five-minute break. She was escorted from the courtroom by support staff.

After she left, Judge Rafferty told the defence: "This line of questioning appears to be calculated to harass, undermine, demean and degrade the witness. I can only assume you are under direct instructions to behave so with your questioning, in trying to humiliate the witness as you are doing. Some of these questions have been beyond the Pale."

The court reconvened and the defence conceded they would not be putting anything further to the victim.

Under cross-examination by the prosecution, McLaughlin stated the relationship ended shortly after their child was born. He admitted knowing the victim did not want the secret discussed with anyone, but confirmed he disclosed information to the victim's mother, which caused great upset.

In relation to the Facebook page, which contained explicit photographs and posts, McLaughlin said: "Look, I hold my hands up. I've told the truth all the way through. I set the page up. I shouldn't have done it. I was in a bad place."

The prosecutor put it to McLaughlin that he "held the dark secret over (the victim's) head, threatening her in order that you could get more contact with (the child) on your terms. You accessed her private messages and posted them publicly."

Concluding, the prosecution said: "When you couldn't get what you wanted you carried through on your threat to disclose it.

"You posted a very provocative photograph of a topless woman posing on the Facebook page… you then post the name of the school (the victim) went to."

McLaughlin continued to deny harassment.

Judge Rafferty immediately ruled the conviction was upheld.

Addressing McLaughlin, he said: "I am absolutely satisfied you discovered a dark secret from the victim's past and you then sought to blackmail, browbeat and use it as some threat against her.

"This was nasty, vicious and calculated. It is the sort of behaviour which sinks the human soul."

The defence said: "I suggest my client was naive and desperate."

But Judge Rafferty shot back: "Naive and stupid? Try vicious and nasty. You are pushing the boat out."

On learning the original sentence was suspended, Judge Rafferty declared he was "shocked".

Adjourning the case, he added: "This is not a matter for suspending. For that reason Mr McLaughlin will be remanded in custody at once. I will sentence next month when reports have been prepared."

McLaughlin was placed in handcuffs and taken to the cells.

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