Barrister quits as Dungannon child cruelty case due to start
A case of alleged child cruelty has been halted just as a hearing was to get under way at Dungannon Magistrates Court after a defence barrister advised he could not continue acting for his client.
It was the second time in as many months that the contest was abandoned at the 11th hour. The first was due to a required courtroom not being available.
The accused, who is aged in his 40s, cannot be identified to the protect the children involved.
He is alleged to have wilfully assaulted two children in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health. The offences relate to dates between January 2013 and December 2017.
Having pleaded not guilty to the charges, a contest was to be heard last month. However, because three children - two alleged victims and a sibling - were to give evidence and undergo cross-examination by live-link a particular courtroom was required to facilitate this.
As both courtrooms fitted with these were in use for other cases, the contest had to be adjourned.
A new date was identified and the injured parties were in attendance accompanied by specialist child officers, along with other witnesses and the court facilities were in readiness.
District Judge Michael Ranaghan was anxious to get the contest under way, particularly due to the young age of the children.
The defence initially asked for a short adjournment to speak with the accused.
After other unrelated matters were dealt with, the judge again enquired on the status of the case.
At this point the defence barrister advised: "I'm afraid a difficulty has arisen. It is very regrettable but I am no longer able to continue in this case."
Addressing the defendant in the dock, Judge Ranaghan said, "This is very, very unfortunate as young children are involved. You face very serious charges which may be more comfortable in the crown court. If this occurs again, I will force this case on one way or another."
After telling the accused to speak with his solicitor to retain another barrister, Judge Ranaghan added: "I am strongly thinking of sending this to the crown court or at least asking the prosecution to consider a review. You need to understand the seriousness of this."
From the dock the defendant replied: "You need to understand, it's my family."
He is to appear back in court on December 18.