Former Ireland and Ulster rugby star David Tweed is facing a lengthy prison sentence after being convicted of a string of “vile” and “wicked” sex offences against two young girls.
The Ballymena councillor was outed as a paedophile sexual predator after the Belfast Telegraph successfully overturned a court order banning the media from identifying him.
A leading Northern Ireland children's charity said it hoped the subsequent publicity surrounding the case would encourage victims of sexual abuse to confide in others, while a Policing Board member praised this paper for tackling the restrictions he described as “clearly wrong”.
Had the order not been challenged, the public would never have learnt of Tweed's depraved crimes against children.
He was yesterday found guilty of 13 charges of indecent assault, gross indecency and incitement to commit gross indecency.
Tweed committed the crimes against the girls — now women — over an eight-year period.
The verdicts were arrived at by majority decisions by the jury of 10 women and two men at Antrim Crown Court following the trial, which had entered its fourth week.
On Tuesday the jury delivered a not guilty verdict on one count of indecent assault.
They continued yesterday morning to deliberate on the remaining charges, returning guilty verdicts on a further 10 charges at 1pm. Just over an hour later they found him guilty on the remaining three charges.
In total, they spent eight hours deliberating on the charges against the railway supervisor.
The 53-year-old stood with his hands clasped in front of him as the verdicts were read out, and on both occasions shook his head.
Following the verdicts, Judge Alistair Devlin told Tweed the crimes he had been convicted of were “vile” and “wicked”.
He added they were also |“dastardly and distasteful”. Mr Devlin said Tweed had been a person who had been in a position of trust and influence.
He said the court would deal with Tweed “seriously” when sentencing him.
Thanking the members of the jury, Mr Devlin said the trial “had not been easy”, adding that it was also “distressing”.
As the jury filed out of the court following the verdicts, Tweed stared in their direction, shaking his head throughout. Two women who had accompanied Tweed to court throughout the trial cried in the wake of the verdicts. A woman supporting one of the victims ran out of the courtroom sobbing.
A defence lawyer told the judge he would not be seeking bail.
Tweed was remanded into custody and will be sentenced early next year.
North Antrim DUP MLA and member of the Policing Board, David McIlveen, said the Belfast Telegraph's determination to overturn restrictions preventing the public from learning of Tweed's crimes was to be applauded.
He said: “The Belfast Telegraph was right to challenge this as public representatives should be at all times transparent, regardless of whether the attention they are receiving is positive or negative.”
Following yesterday's verdicts, child protection charity the NSPCC said it is vital young people who suffer abuse come forward.
“We know that reporting concerns of abuse is not easy, but to protect children people need to act and accept that safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility,” a spokeswoman said.
“We would hope that increased awareness of such cases will continue to encourage those who have been victims of abuse to seek support and to report their abuser to the police.
“It is imperative that those with concerns speak out,” she said.
Tweed: from a giant to a child sex beast
By Chris Kilpatrick
Guilty verdicts shatter facade of decencyDavid Tweed in the green of Ireland; facing off with RUC officers as an Orange parade in Dunloy is re-routed (right), and (far right) shaking hands with Ian Paisley in 2005 W e were just here for justice, that's all we wanted, said a relative of one of the victims of David Tweed following yesterday's verdicts which finally saw him convicted as a child abuser.
The two women he abused over the course of a number of years were too distressed to sit through the verdicts in the presence of the man responsible for robbing them of their childhoods.
Tweed consistently denied all of the allegations against him throughout the trial, meaning the victims had the harrowing task of taking to the witness box in court to relive the depraved acts he carried out on them.
Both sobbed while giving details of what took place at the hands of the man regarded by many as a hero at the time due to his prowess on the rugby field. The court was also told how one victim tried in vain to push him off her, the youngster ultimately unable to escape the clutches of the 18-stone pervert.
When the claims were put to the former Ireland rugby star in court, he described them as “sick”.
Prosecuting barrister Laura Levers told the court Tweed used his reputation as a former sports star and elected representative “as a veil” which enabled him to “live a lie”.
“David Tweed was in a position of trust,” she said.
“He commanded respect.”
Had it not been for the Belfast Telegraph's determination to overturn a court order banning Tweed from being named in the media, that false reputation would have remained intact.
The entire trial lasted three-and-a-half weeks, the |first week of which went unreported in the media due to legal restrictions.
On the first day, I sat in court as the jury was sworn in and the 14 charges detailed.
Just hours later I was present at a meeting of Ballymena Borough Council, of which Tweed has been a member for 15 years.
The mood was jovial in the chamber as a motion was passed granting actor Liam Neeson freedom of the borough.
Tweed was present. He broke off from engaging in light conversation and joking with fellow councillors to briefly catch my eye from across the room.
For a split second the confident demeanour appeared to slip, before he turned away again and returned to light-hearted exchanges with his colleagues, who were completely oblivious to the sickening allegations against him.
Throughout the trial, too, he maintained a stance which, to the onlooker, presented an image of a man who believed he had nothing to fear.
“That didn't happen,” he answered constantly, both during police interviews in 2010 and when under cross-examination in court.
He accused the victims of being involved in a conspiracy against him, and his defence argued the flashbacks of abuse the victims spoke of in court could not be relied upon.
The jury, however, believed the evidence of the women who said the abuse they endured at the hands of Tweed had devastated their lives.
One said she still suffers nightmares as a result, and thinks of what happened to her on a daily basis.
The court was told midway through the trial that regardless of the final outcome, there would be “no winners”.
As the victims and their families left court yesterday the expressions on their faces were not of joy, but of relief.
As they attempt to close the lid on one horrific chapter in their lives, they do so in the knowledge that the man who caused them so much pain is this morning waking up behind bars with the realisation the facade he had created over the past three decades has finally been shattered.
How the Belfast Telegraph fought to prove secret justice is no justice at all
By Martin Hill
Media coverage of David Tweed’s trial lacked one key element — the defendant’s identity — until the Belfast Telegraph’s legal challenge to name him.
Two judges had imposed three separate banning orders preventing the Press from |identifying Tweed. But our lawyers successfully challenged the orders. It represented a rare victory in the battle against a trend towards secret justice. And secret justice, of course, is no justice at all.
The paper trail of ‘anonymity’ orders began last January at Coleraine Magistrates Court.
District Judge Richard Wilson imposed an order under Section 1 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. It meant that “no details |pertaining to the identification of the defendant and complainants be published in any publication of any sort”.
Then in February, when Tweed was sent for trial to Antrim Crown Court, a second, more senior judge, Corinne Philpott QC, imposed an identical order under Section 1.
Judge Philpott made a second order — under Section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 — banning identification.
Anonymity for the accused is not usually recognised in law. When Tweed’s case returned to Antrim Crown Court on November 5, the Belfast Telegraph’s lawyers wrote to the trial judge, Judge Alistair Devlin, asking him to reconsider the banning orders.
Solicitor Timothy Cockram and barrister Gary McHugh appeared before Judge Devlin to press their case.
Mr McHugh argued that District Judge Wilson and Judge Philpott had erred in |incorporating the words “the defendant” into the orders they made under the 1992 Act.
Section 1 was drafted to protect the anonymity of victims of sexual offences, he argued, but contained no basis for prohibiting publication of the defendant’s identity. Mr McHugh argued that, if Judge Philpott considered an order under the 1981 Act necessary to protect the identities of the complainants, she also erred in law. He asked for the order to be discharged in its entirety.
After considering Mr McHugh’s submissions, Judge Devlin set aside Judge Philpott’s order under the 1981 Act and varied the orders made under the 1992 Act to prevent identification of the complainants, but, crucially, not the defendant.
Tweed could conceal his identity no longer. Shorn of the cloak of anonymity, his trial went ahead in public — thanks to this newspaper’s refusal to accept secret justice.
From star of rugby |to pariah |status as paedophile
By chris kilpatrick
From sporting icon and public servant to child sex abuser.
The unveiling of David Tweed as a paedophile has sent shockwaves throughout Northern Ireland, and in particular the north Antrim area in which for decades he had been widely regarded as a man of trust and integrity.
It is an astonishing fall from grace for a man who had carved out a high profile in local politics as a councillor in Ballymena, following on from an illustrious rugby career, during which he reached the pinnacle of his sport by playing for Ireland.
At 6ft 5ins tall and weighing more than 18 stone, Tweed stood out, even on the rugby pitch.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he established himself as one of the country's top players.
In the mid-1990s his profile rose further still when he was selected for Ireland.
Later he would become synonymous with hardline unionism, and back then he made no secret of his political views.
He claimed that, while representing Ireland, he wore his Ulster shirt underneath so the red hand emblem would be closer to his heart than the crest of the international side.
The 53-year-old also claimed that he sang God Save The Queen to himself prior to every international. He played for Ireland five times. Around the same time he embarked on a political career, joining the DUP.
A member of the Orange Order for much of his life, Tweed was infuriated when his lodge was prevented from marching through the mainly nationalist village of Dunloy, close to where he grew up.
He was elected to Ballymena Council in 1997 and a short time later was convicted of assault following a fracas at a bar.
While described by those who knew him as mild-mannered on most occasions, Tweed was building a reputation as a man to avoid when he had consumed alcohol.
In 2008 his drinking saw him before the courts. He lost his licence and was fined £250 for drink-driving.
His drinking and increasingly unpredictable temper were also affecting those closest to him.
During his trial over the past four weeks, Tweed admitted he had been physically violent against his ex-wife.
In 2007 he became disillusioned with the DUP’s change in direction towards power-sharing with Sinn Fein. Following a three-year stint as an independent, he joined the TUV.
In 2009 he was acquitted of separate charges of indecent assault against young girls.
When the most recent allegations came to light, the TUV announced that it had suspended him from the party.