Woman welcomes 'IRA abuse' report
A woman who claimed the IRA covered up allegations that one of its members raped her says she has been vindicated by a report heavily criticising prosecutors' handling of her case.
The independent review by Sir Keir Starmer today prompted Northern Ireland's director of public prosecutions (DPP) to apologise to Mairia Cahill and two other woman who accused the alleged IRA man of abusing them as children.
The attempted prosecutions of Martin Morris for alleged sex abuse and IRA membership - and four others accused of IRA membership linked to Ms Cahill's claims of a republican cover-up - never got to trial because the three women withdrew their evidence.
Ms Cahill, 33, from Belfast, a grand-niece of prominent republican Joe Cahill, went to the police in 2010 claiming she was raped as a teenager by Mr Morris in 1997.
She claimed republican paramilitaries conducted their own inquiry and subjected her to interrogation before forcing her to confront her alleged attacker.
Her claims, highlighted in a BBC documentary last year, shone a light on how the IRA dealt with alleged sex abusers during a time when co-operation with the police in republican communities in Northern Ireland was extremely limited.
The review by Sir Keir said the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service's (PPS) handling of what were planned to be three separate trials had "let down" the three women.
The former director of public prosecutions in England and Wales said the errors made it "almost inevitable" that the women would pull out of the process.
After the women withdrew their evidence, not guilty verdicts were returned for all five defendants - Morris, Padraic Wilson, Seamus Finucane, Briege Wright and Agnes McCrory - all of whom have strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Ms Cahill said the report had backed her long-time insistence that PPS failings had left her with little option but to withdraw her evidence
"The apology is welcome but it's pretty upsetting you end up in this situation," she said.
"So the apology is welcome but I think what would be more meaningful is that the recommendations are quickly taken on board and implemented."
Ms Cahill said she cried when she met Sir Keir to discuss his findings this morning.
"For the last seven months (since the BBC Spotlight documentary) I have been repeatedly trailed through the media, my credibility has been called into question, people have said I wasn't prepared to give evidence in a court of law, that the not guilty verdicts somehow presented some sort of reasoning or attack on my credibility and I think this report completely vindicates my position," she said.
Ms Cahill also accused Sinn Fein of treating her badly since the story became high profile last year. She urged the republican party to apologise and accept the report's findings.
Sir Keir's review was critical of the PPS and the prosecuting counsel involved in the case. He cited delays, insufficient planning and lack of communication with the women as key weaknesses.
He also criticised a "significant" failure by the PPS to challenge a defence bid to change the sequence in which the various trials were heard.
The move saw the sex abuse case against Morris moved from first in line to last, behind the two IRA membership trials - the first for Morris individually, then a second for the other four accused of membership.
Northern Ireland's DPP Barra McGrory QC said he was committed to ensuring the mistakes made would not be allowed to happen again.
"I want to take this opportunity to express as director of public prosecutions a sincere apology to the three victims in these cases," he said.
"It is clear that our service to them fell far short of the standard that they - and indeed the PPS - would expect."
The DPP said he accepted "without reservation" the 10 recommendations made by Sir Keir.
The alleged abuse happened between 1997 and 2000 when all the women were children. They all made statements to police in 2010.
After the three connected trials effectively collapsed last year, Sir Keir was asked by Mr McGrory to examine how the PPS handled the cases.
Ms Cahill has waived her right to anonymity.