Belfast Telegraph

Sex beast's teenage victim tells of ordeal

'I am glad he cannot hurt anybody else now'

By Michael McHugh in Craigavon

A SEX attack victim whose testimony led to a life sentence for one of Ulster's worst serial rapists was praised for her bravery today.

A SEX attack victim whose testimony led to a life sentence for one of Ulster's worst serial rapists was praised for her bravery today.

As evil Thomas Roy Whitla was led down to the cells yesterday to begin a life sentence, courageous Sinead McAvoy waived her legal right to anonymity to tell the Belfast Telegraph of her marathon courtroom ordeal which ended in the rapist's sentencing.

Maniac Whitla has a long history of raping women and has spent most of the last 20 years in jail. He now faces at least seven years imprisonment before he can be considered for release.

His victim was only 16 when she was attacked on a railway embankment near Lurgan on October 4, 2002.

Her eyes red and strained with the emotion, Sinead told how her life had been put on hold before the case and during the trial itself.

Accompanied to court by her father Peter McAvoy and other relatives, the Lurgan teenager said she was relieved at the verdict and pleased that her assailant could not harm anybody else.

"It has been very hard, very difficult, but I am ready to go on now," she said. "I cannot explain it, it is just so good to be finished with it now.

"I am glad he cannot hurt anybody else now, there are so many that he hurt before."

Craigavon Crown Court's Judge Curran QC heard how Whitla (46), of James Street, Lurgan, had spent most of the past 20 years in prison after committing two other rapes, a series of indecent assaults, other criminal assaults and thefts.

He was sentenced to eight years custody for rape in 1984 and shortly after his release in 1987 he committed a series of offences including indecent assaults and attempted rape.

In 1992 Whitla received a further ten-year prison sentence for rape but was out again by 1997. In 1998 he was convicted of making threats to kill and attempted rape but was released again in January 2001.

Prosecuting counsel told Judge Curran: "That was by far the longest period he has been at large for the last 20 years."

Sinead's father Peter said the last 15 months had been a nightmare period for the family.

"Life is too good for him, they should have taken him down," he said.

"Sinead was incredibly brave. It has been very hard for her and we are glad it is now over. It was all down to her."

Judge Curran, in reading his judgment, ordered that Whitla be placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for life.

"I am satisfied on the record alone that it would merit imposing a life sentence and I am completely satisfied on the medical evidence which I have considered.

" I am satisfied that no determinant sentence will resolve it."

The judge said he was imposing a life sentence to protect the public and to give Whitla the opportunity to respond to mental illness treatment which he needed.

A hulking man dressed in a beige jacket with a lined face and untidy facial hair, Whitla showed no emotion as he was sentenced.

The security presence was heavy with eight prison officers in the courtroom.

SDLP women's issues spokeswoman Patricia Lewsley welcomed the verdict and said the area would now be safer for women.

"I am delighted with the outcome because that is a just sentence for someone who has been a serial rapist and the women in Lurgan can probably rest easy in their beds," she said.

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