Belfast Telegraph

Belfast folk musician Francis McPeake III to stand trial accused of catalogue of child sex abuse

By Alan Erwin

One of Northern Ireland's top folk musicians Francis McPeake III is to stand trial accused of a catalogue of child sex abuse on both sides of the Irish border.

The 71-year-old Belfast man can be named after his lawyers confirmed they were not challenging a decision to lift reporting restrictions.

McPeake, part of a traditional music dynasty in the city, had tried to have his identity protected due to fears his life was at risk.

He fled his Eliza Street Close home in the Markets area last month after a mob of up to 60 people gathered outside.

Riot squad police had to disperse the crowd, who had arrived after details of the case against McPeake appeared on Facebook and in a Sunday newspaper.

The accused faces a total of 12 charges involving alleged offences committed during 2009 and 2010.

They include counts of sexual activity outside the UK and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

Some of the alleged offences occurred in the Republic of Ireland and others in the Belfast area.

All of them involve the same alleged victim, a girl aged under 16 at the relevant times.

A temporary ban on identifying McPeake was imposed when he first appeared before Belfast Magistrates' Court to allow his legal team time to seek a full prohibition.

Defence lawyers then argued that naming their client would breach his rights to life and freedom from torture, punishment and inhuman treatment.

It was claimed that McPeake is different from other defendants because he is so well-known.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall accepted there would be a real and immediate risk to his life if he was to return to his home address.

But she refused to grant full reporting restrictions on the basis that he has now moved to a different, unidentified location.

In a ruling given on Tuesday Judge Bagnall said: "The evidence before me suggests the threat has come from the defendant's immediate locality.

"There is no verifiable or objective evidence that the level of threat would be replicated if he were to reside elsewhere."

Pointing out that McPeake has already been named in print and social media coverage, she added: "the identity of the defendant is obviously well-known in the Markets area.

"In those circumstances it's likely those who are likely to pose a verifiable threat to the defendant already know his identity.

"Therefore publishing his name will not materially increase the threat to the defendant."

McPeake's lawyers who given until today to decide whether to mount a High Court challenge to her ruling.

It was confirmed, however, that no further challenge was being pursued.

McPeake, whose new address cannot be revealed, then entered the dock for a preliminary enquiry hearing.

With his family members in the public gallery, he declined to give evidence or call witnesses at this stage in the case.

Judge Bagnall granted a prosecution application to have him returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court on a date to be fixed.

He was released on continuing bail of £500 to return when those proceedings get underway.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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