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Donegal youth club worker at evangelical church sexually assaulted girl (13) 'every day' in back of converted van

By Greg Harkin

Published 27/01/2016

Richard Blackburn was found guilty of sexual offences at Letterkenny Circuit court
Richard Blackburn was found guilty of sexual offences at Letterkenny Circuit court

A youth club worker at an evangelical church who indecently assaulted a teenage girl ‘every day’ has been jailed for two years.

Richard Blackburn (57), a landrover mechanic from Carnone, Raphoe, Co Donegal, pleaded guilty to three specimen charges relating to a series of sexual assaults on the girl between 2000 and 2002.

Most of the attacks took place in the back of a converted Mercedes van which he used to take children to and from a youth club run in Raphoe by the Congregational Church.

The victim, Rachel McAuley, now 29, wrote to the court from abroad where she now lives to waive her right to anonymity so her attacker could be named.

In her powerful victim impact statement, read to the court by investigating officer Det Sgt Ciaran Brolly, she told how she was now afraid to return home to Ireland for fear of meeting Blackburn.

Her life, she said, had been destroyed and simple things for most people like going to the shop were now nerve-wrecking experiences.

“It is like my teenage years didn’t exist at all,” said the victim.

“What happened to me was life-altering, dark and very scary.  Richard Blackburn was a trusted family friend. My mother was a bridesmaid at his wedding.

“He knew me from birth and therefore he knew my age. I was abused daily. For years he convinced me it was all my fault but I now know it wasn't my fault.

“When I go home to Ireland I am afraid to meet him in the street. I wanted to spend time there when my granny was unwell and she died recently. I didn’t get to spend that special time with her.”

Ms McAuley, now a school teacher, said she doesn’t sleep at night and constantly feels nervous.

She plucked up the courage to report Blackburn at a UK police station in 2010 and travelled to Ballybofey six months later to give gardai an extensive statement about the attacks.

DS Brolly told the court that Blackburn used his adapted van to ferry children to and from a youth club set up in church hall.

But when he was alone with Rachel he would sexually assault her.

Rachel, he said, had a strict religious upbringing. Blackburn had known her from birth, was a friend and parishioner along with her parents and her grandmother.

Most of the incidents happened when Blackburn was leaving Rachel home to her granny’s house in Convoy

One one occasion he had taken her to Kilkenny on a trip, stopped at the isolated Barnesmore Gap outside Ballybofey on the way home and sexually assaulted her.

Whilst the assault took place, a passing patrol car stopped to check on the vehicle.

Blackburn had jumped back into the front of the van and told gardai he had stopped to rest.

Gardai didn’t see Rachel in the sofa-bed in the back because the windows were obscured by curtains.

Rachel told gardai that Blackburn had said to her after the incident: “That was close.”

Judge John O’Hagan said Blackburn had breached the trust of an impressionable young girl in her formative years.

The age difference of 28 years was “absolutely mind-boggling”.

Blackburn, said the judge, had put his victim through an “absolutely traumatic” experience which had left deep scars on her life.

He sentenced Blackburn to three two-year prison sentences to run concurrently, with the last year suspended.

He also placed the mechanic on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.

Irish Independent

Irish Independent

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