Belfast child abuser spared jail due to 'exceptional circumstances'
A pensioner whose family once owned one of Belfast's landmark pubs has been spared prison after he admitted sexually assaulting a girl.
James Thomas Catney (67), with an address in south Belfast, was told by a judge that although the custody threshold had been passed, there were "highly exceptional circumstances'' that allowed him to suspend a three-year prison sentence for three years.
Catney was placed on the sex offenders' register for the rest of his life and was also made the subject of sexual offenders prevention order.
Belfast Crown Court heard he had previously denied a total of 20 offences - 10 counts of gross indecency and 10 of indecent assault.
Prosecution counsel Kate McKay said that in March this year he entered guilty pleas to three counts of gross indecency and three of indecent assault.
The offences he pleaded guilty to took place on dates between December 31, 1990, and January 1, 1994, when Catney was aged between 41 and 44 and his victim was aged between eight and 11.
The remaining 14 charges were to be "left on the books and not to be proceeded with without the leave of the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal''.
Judge Geoffrey Miller QC heard that at the time of the offences Catney's family owned The Kitchen Bar in Belfast.
The charges related to an incident of touching when Catney attended a house where alcohol was consumed.
The gross indecency charges, the court heard, were in relation to Catney getting the victim to indecently touch him.
"It is accepted by the prosecution that the guilty pleas were of assistance to the Crown as there were a number of evidential difficulties and important witnesses were not prepared to come to court for the trial of these matters,'' said Mrs McKay.
The judge was told that Catney has a previous conviction for indecent exposure to a landlady in 1970, for which he received a conditional discharge of two years.
The defendant also has a number of convictions for dishonesty offences.
Eilis McDermott QC, defending, said Catney had developed polio as a young child and had one leg shorter than the other as a result.
She told the court he developed behavioural problems from the age of 16 onwards after he discovered that he had been adopted and started to abuse alcohol.
She added that her client now suffered a medical condition brought about by his abuse of alcohol and was tended to by carers twice a day, which involved preparing his food, washing and clothing him.
Ms McDermott explained that Catney now "lived the life of a recluse". He sits at home all day watching television and does not go out unaccompanied after he fell at home and sustained leg fractures, the barrister told the court.
The lawyer accepted that the custody threshold had been met, but insisted that there were "highly exceptional circumstances in the case which would warrant a suspension of a prison sentence''.
Ms McDermott said these included that probation officers had assessed Catney as having a low risk of reoffending.
Telling the court that her client no longer consumed alcohol, the defence counsel added there were ongoing health issues and that the defendant had to use a walking aid to get around.