Belfast Telegraph

Accordion band leader weeps as he is jailed for molesting girls

Arrested and interviewed in 2016, Rafferty denied any wrongdoing and gave evidence on his own behalf before the jury maintaining his innocence (stock photo)
Arrested and interviewed in 2016, Rafferty denied any wrongdoing and gave evidence on his own behalf before the jury maintaining his innocence (stock photo)

By Paul Higgins

The former leader and child protection officer of an award-winning accordion band wept in court yesterday as he was jailed for 15 months for sexually abusing two young girls.

Jailing Liam Patrick Rafferty (75) at Newtownards Crown Court, Judge Geoffrey Millar QC told him there were numerous aggravating features to his offending, including the "deliberate isolation" and grooming of the victims "to perpetrate the repeated offending".

Ordering Rafferty to spend a further 15 months under supervised licence conditions when he is freed, the judge also barred him from working with children and imposed a five-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

Judge Millar told Rafferty, who wept in the dock throughout the 40-minute hearing, that as the leader of the St Miguel Accordion Band in Downpatrick, he had been held in "high regard" in his community.

The high degree of trust placed in him meant "the breach of the trust reposed in him was all the greater".

At the end of a two-week trial last June Rafferty, from Mary Street in Downpatrick, was convicted by the jury of seven counts of sexual activity with a girl aged between 13 and 16, and two counts of sexual assault against two young victims on dates between July 21, 2012 and January 11, 2016.

Prosecuting counsel Laura Ievers said Rafferty had been giving private music lessons to the victims in his home when there were repeated incidents of kissing and inappropriate touching.

Mrs Ievers said Rafferty was convicted on three counts of sexual activity with a child in relation to the first victim, who was aged 13-14 when she was abused.

Count one, said the lawyer, related to the first incident in May 2016 when Rafferty kissed the teenager on the mouth. Count two was a specimen charge to reflect that same act happening "six or seven times".

Mrs Ievers said the third count was also a specimen charge to reflect Rafferty repeatedly "kissing her, or trying to kiss her on the lips".

There was also an element of grooming by Rafferty, who had sent the girl numerous messages on social media where he used "terms of affection" and offered her a gift of a printer.

The second victim, she told the court, was aged between 14 and 16 when Rafferty abused her by kissing her on the lips and "rubbing her leg" when she was having music lessons.

"He told her that he loved her and offered to take her to Dublin," said Mrs Ievers, adding that at one stage Rafferty's wife saw her husband touching the girl's leg and confronted him about it.

Arrested and interviewed in 2016, Rafferty denied any wrongdoing and gave evidence on his own behalf before the jury maintaining his innocence.

The court heard yesterday that while he "accepts the jury's verdicts", he still claims to be innocent.

Mrs Ievers said that as Rafferty "put himself in the role of teacher and mentor and held himself out as a guardian", including in his role as a child protection officer in the band he led, it was a "breach of trust case".

In addition, she told the court, was the fact there were two victims with a large age disparity and "what we would say was deliberate isolating to perpetuate the offences". When his behaviour was revealed, there were "efforts to prevent them from reporting the abuse, capitalising on their trusting relationship".

While Rafferty has a clear record and has "significant health issues", there was "an absence of remorse" on his part, submitted Mrs Ievers.

Defence counsel Chris Holmes said that as a result of those health problems "he is going to find a custodial sentence more difficult than perhaps an average defendant, and that as the main carer for his "extremely ill" wife "incarceration of her husband is going to significantly affect her".

He said from the evidence at the trial "it became clear to the court" that over the years Rafferty had been in "close personal contact with tens of thousands, certainly thousands, of young people and we have ended up in this case with two victims".

Over the years he had done a huge amount of good but had destroyed that completely, said Mr Holmes, adding that Rafferty had "utterly destroyed an impeccable reputation".

Jailing Rafferty and ordering him to sign the sex offenders register for 10 years, Judge Millar said that the loss of reputation in a small town such as Downpatrick "will have almost as big an impact on him as the sentences".

Belfast Telegraph

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