Belfast Telegraph

'Well-known pensioner accused of child sex abuse will be at risk if identified by press' - court hears

The life of a well-known pensioner accused of a catalogue of child sex abuse will be at heightened risk if he is identified by the press, a court heard today.

Lawyers for the Belfast man, who is alleged to have committed offences on both sides of the Irish border, argued that naming him would lead to further attacks.

A judge was told he had to flee his home when a mob of up to 60 people gathered there following a previous media report.

Threats were also posted about him on Facebook.

Temporary reporting restrictions have now been imposed while the anonymity application is being considered.

The accused, who is in his 70s, attended Belfast Magistrates' Court with relatives to hear the bid for a gagging order.

He faces a total of 12 charges involving alleged offences committed between June 2009 and May 2010.

They include counts of sexual activity outside the UK and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

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

All of them involve the same alleged victim, a girl aged under 16 at the relevant times.

Defence lawyers argued that identifying their client would breach his rights to life and freedom from torture, punishment and inhuman treatment.

Barrister Michael Forde said: "Because (the accused) is known it's not like other defendants who come before the court."

A PSNI sergeant told how riot officers were called in to deal with trouble at the pensioner's home earlier this month.

He said up to 60 people had gathered, with missiles thrown at the house and some chanting "paedo".

The officer said he then advised the man and his family to leave for their own safety.

Facebook comments about the accused were also used to back the case for reporting restrictions.

One stated: "A bullet should be put in his head", while another claimed: "He should be taken out in a body bag."

But District Judge Fiona Bagnall stressed how restricting press freedom should only be done as a last resort in exceptional circumstances.

After being told of the public interest in naming the accused, she pointed out that the crowd who gathered outside his home already know his identity.

Judge Bagnall further questioned if "the genie is already out of the bottle" due to previous print and social media coverage. "I'm not an expert on Facebook, but from what I have heard once you're on Facebook this can go viral," she said.

Judgment on the application will be given next Tuesday.

An interim order banning any disclosure of the accused's identity remains in place until then.
 

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