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Court of Appeal hears bad character evidence ‘wrongly introduced’ to bolster case against Derry man serving 20-year prison sentence for rape


The case is being heard by the Court of Appeal

The case is being heard by the Court of Appeal

The case is being heard by the Court of Appeal

Bad character evidence was wrongly introduced to bolster a weak case against a man found guilty of raping an unconscious woman at his flat in Derry, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Disclosing details about a previous sexual assault at Shaun Hegarty’s trial rendered his conviction unsafe, defence lawyers claimed.

Hegarty, 30, is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for carrying out the latest attack in April 2019.

The woman was discovered by members of the public after collapsing on the city’s Northland Road.

She told police that she remembered very little apart from waking up on a mattress on a concrete floor of Hegarty’s apartment.

A rope had been put around her neck at one stage, according to her account.

She spent a week in hospital for treatment to a traumatic brain injury and other wounds.

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Hegarty of Balliniska Heights, claimed the pair had engaged in consensual “rough sex”, and that she hurt herself by walking into a door.

But following a trial at Derry Crown Court he was found guilty of raping, attempting to choke and assaulting the woman.

Jurors also heard how he had been previously jailed for rape in 2010.

Appealing the latest conviction, defence counsel Brian McCartney QC argued that the complainant’s credibility was undermined by inconsistencies in her version of events.

He told the three-judge panel that no stupefying substances were discovered at Hegarty’s.

“Police searched that apartment up and down for the type of paraphernalia she alleged had been used during her four to five hour ordeal in the premises,” the barrister said.

“No rope was found, no syringes, no drugs, just alcohol as the applicant had at all times alleged.”

Counsel challenged the decision to allow bad character evidence at the trial, and the timing of its introduction.

He claimed there were significant circumstantial and factual differences between two alleged offences committed nine years apart.

“This (previous) conviction shouldn’t be seen as bolstering a weak case, and we submit this was a weak case, based upon the contradictory and inherently unbelievable accounts (the complainant) provided throughout,” Mr McCartney argued.

He added: “The applicant in this case admitted having sexual intercourse… and under cross-examination it was conceded some of these injuries could have been caused by boisterous or vigorous sex.”

A prosecution barrister insisted, however, that the extent of the woman’s serious injuries does not fit in with the account provided by Hegarty.

He also contended that the trial judge was entitled to admit bad character in a case where the jury was advised of both similarities and dissimilarities between the two incidents.

Acknowledging the complainant had initially lied about where she met Hegarty, the barrister said: “Everything was made absolutely clear that this was not someone who had started off telling the truth.

“But she gave an account of what she said happened to her, it’s inconsistent with the account the accused gave – namely she was a willing party, there was consensual sex, she wanted rough sex and then she injured herself on the chin by hitting the door of the bathroom.

“Her version was different, and we say that’s not a weak case. A jury is quite entitled to say 'I believe some of the evidence, but I don’t believe other parts'.”

Reserving judgment in the appeal, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan pledged: “We will provide a ruling as soon as we can.”

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