Belfast Telegraph

Child killer Clifford sentenced over sex abuse of boy

John Clifford
John Clifford
John Clifford's niece Sue Ellen

By Ashleigh McDonald

A 57-year-old killer currently serving a life sentence for murdering his niece has been handed another jail term after he admitted sexually abusing a young boy.

John Clifford was jailed for life in 1989 for abducting his eight-year-old niece Sue Ellen from her north Belfast home before raping and murdering her - then dumping her body on a disused railway line.

The trauma caused her mother Martha Adair to take her own life less than two years later.

Yesterday Clifford was given a five-year sentence by Judge David McFarland for the other offences.

Relatives of the murdered girl sat in the public gallery and after sentence was passed, they called him "scum".

Clutching a picture of Sue Ellen, they shouted at him: "Look at what you have taken away from us. Look at us. Life should mean life. They should lock you up and throw away the key."

Prior to this Belfast Crown Court heard Clifford, whose address was given as 'no fixed abode', confessed to sexually abusing the boy over a two-year period from 1984 to 1986, when he was aged between three and four.

A prosecutor said Clifford would sit the child on his knee, they would watch a video of a train journey and that every time the train went under a bridge, the boy would be forced to perform a sex act on him.

The prosecutor said: "This went on for two years; each time it happened it was the same, including the video."

Clifford was in the news last September when he went on the run after failing to return to custody.

He sparked a manhunt after he was released from custody in Belfast to attend an appointment but failed to come back.

Clifford initially denied abusing the boy in the mid-1980s in the south east Antrim area, and a trial commenced at Belfast Crown Court last month.

However, after the hearing was opened and before any evidence was presented, Clifford changed his plea and admitted three charges of indecent assault.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge McFarland pointed out that had these offences been committed after a change in legislation, Clifford would have been charged with rape and not sexual assault.

Clifford's conviction for murdering his niece was mentioned during yesterday's sentencing. The prosecutor told the judge a post-mortem revealed she had been sexually assaulted, and that Clifford has since admitted this.

A barrister acting on behalf of Clifford said that the man before the court yesterday was "not the same man" he was in the 1980s and said: "He has asked me to apologise profusely for his behaviour to the injured party in this case."

Pointing out that Clifford's change of plea spared his victim from giving evidence at a trial, the barrister said his client was "working hard on his rehabilitation" but said his future was "uncertain".

Judge McFarland branded Clifford's offending against the young boy as "sinister", and noted there were "certain sexual aspects" regarding his niece's murder, which occurred two years after he abused the boy.

The judge also told Clifford that "the offending by you ... has had a significant impact on the child, who is now a man".

He added that the victim was subsequently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

As well as being handed a five-year sentence, Clifford was told he will be both on the Sex Offenders' Register and subject to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order for life.

Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie from the PSNI Public Protection Branch said: "John Clifford carried out a number of child sex offences over a period of years against a young child, manipulating and controlling his young victim so that they didn't speak out. The victim in this case had to carry this burden for decades before feeling able to speak out about the abuse.

"I encourage anyone who has been sexually abused to come forward and report it to police, even if it was a long time ago.

"We have trained officers who will treat all victims with sensitivity and respect.

"This case proves that even if a number of years have passed, we can still investigate reports of sexual offences against children and place offenders before the courts."

A NSPCC Northern Ireland spokesperson said: "Clifford's latest conviction shows the grave danger he posed to children at the time he carried out his hideous crimes.

"The testimony heard from the survivor of his abuse shows the appalling lifelong effects suffered by young victims.

"We hope Clifford's conviction and imprisonment finally allows him some closure and he receives all the help necessary to recover."

Belfast Telegraph


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