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Women tormented by former Sinn Fein councillor stepmother gets compensation

By Alan Irwin

A woman subjected to child cruelty by her former Sinn Fein councillor stepmother has won her legal battle over being refused compensation.

The Court of Appeal ruled today that the bar on Mary Meehan and other abuse victims who lived in the same house as the perpetrators was not justified in law.

Lord Justice Treacy said: "We can think of no reasonable foundation for a decision to maintain in being an arbitrary exclusion of this proven victim of criminal injuries from a compensation scheme which is specifically designed to compensate such victims."

The decision could pave the way for pay-outs to be made to those abused by assailants while living under the same roof as members of the same family.

Ms Meehan (47) who waived her right to anonymity, suffered physical abuse when she was aged between nine and eleven.  

In 2013 her step mother and former guardian, Briege Meehan (71) admitted child cruelty and assault charges - receiving a suspended prison sentence.

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Her stepmother, Briege Meehan

The offences occurred between July 1979 and October 1980.

At the time Briege Meehan was the girlfriend of Martin Meehan, a senior north Belfast republican either on the run or remanded in custody on IRA-related charges.

The abuse began after Mary Meehan's mother died and the assailant moved into the family home to live with her father in the Ardoyne area, a previous court heard.

Initial physical assaults involved hair pulling, tripping up the applicant and throwing her clothes on the floor.

It was claimed that after her father was imprisoned the abuse worsened until she was taken into care.

Briege Meehan, a former Sinn Fein councillor in Newtownabbey with an address at Elmfield Street in Belfast was suspended by the party after the abuse allegations surfaced in 2009.

Her stepdaughter launched judicial review proceedings against the Department of Justice after a criminal injuries compensation panel turned down an application for compensation.

Under legislation dating back to the 1970s, pay-outs were not made in cases where the abuser and perpetrator lived in the same household.

The rationale was based on difficulties in establishing the facts and to ensure no benefit to the offender.

Although the law has since been amended, the bar remains in place for historic cases.

Ms Meehan's legal team argued that the policy breaches his client's human rights.

They claimed it was unfair to deny her when it has already been established beyond reasonable doubt that she was the victim of physical abuse.

It was contended that if she had been abused by her next door neighbour she would be entitled to compensation.

She appealed a High Court ruling that the position was justified, with her barrister describing the policy as discriminatory and anachronistic.

Backing her case, Lord Justice Treacy pointed out that she is being excluded from access to compensation forever over criminal injuries she says were inflicted on her.

"No other form of effective redress or compensation is available to her," he said.

"Whilst excluded due to 'an historic provision long since abolished because it was recognised to create unjustifiable anomalies', the applicant will regularly see and hear of other victims of similar, and in many cases lesser crimes, receiving compensation for the injuries and damage unjustly inflicted on them."

He continued: "We are acutely aware that the irrational exclusion of some victims from access to all the intended benefits of the compensation scheme may be actively damaging to the long-term prospects of recovery of these victims."

Allowing Ms Meehan's appeal, the judge said: "In our view there is no justifiable, rational or lawful ground for requiring some victims of violent crime to forgo an otherwise valid claim for compensation in order that funds may be saved for distribution to other claimants whose circumstances are equally, or possibly less, deserving of support."

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