Belfast Telegraph

Co Antrim man jailed for sexually assaulting a five-year-old girl to have convictions quashed, Court of Appeal rules

By Alan Erwin

A Co Antrim man jailed for sexually assaulting a five-year-old child he regarded as a granddaughter is to have his convictions quashed, the Court of Appeal ruled on Friday.

Senior judges in Belfast held that non-disclosure of unrelated abuse suffered by the girl's stepsister rendered the guilty verdicts unsafe.

They also confirmed that the 54-year-old man will not face a retrial.

In December last year the appellant, referred to only as A for legal reasons, was jailed for 18 months.

He had been convicted on two counts of sexually assaulting the girl at the home he shared with her aunt in February 2015.

Police were alerted after she made allegations to her mother.

During a special interviewing process the child claimed that while staying at the house A came into her bedroom twice and touched her "private parts" before putting his finger to his mouth, making a shushing gesture and leaving again.

With the man denying her allegations and no independent witnesses, the case depended on an assessment of the two conflicting accounts.

At trial he confirmed that he treated the girl like a grandchild, describing the episode as a "living nightmare".

An issue was also raised about how the complainant came to use the expression "private parts".

Following A's conviction a victim impact assessment carried out by a clinical psychologist revealed that the child's older stepsister had been previously sexually abused by another man.

No documents about the police investigation into that incident were disclosed by the prosecution in A's case.

Appealing the convictions, his lawyers contended that those documents were relevant to how the type of allegations could have been made by a child as young as five.

They argued that she could have been privy to or overheard discussions about the previous abuse her stepsister suffered.

Failure to disclose documents which would have formed part of cross-examination of the child's mother rendered the conviction unsafe, according to the defence.

Backing their case, Lord Justice Stephens said: "The undisclosed material provided a potential explanation and not only should it have been disclosed, but it should also have been considered in relation to the decision as to whether to prosecute."

He "deprecated" an explanation that the system had no record of the other man's conviction for the stepsister's abuse.

"Non-disclosure is a potent source of injustice," the judge emphasised.

"If it had not been for the report from (the clinical psychologist) then this material may never have come to light."

Quashing the convictions, Lord Justice Stephens added: "The prosecution have indicated that they do not seek a retrial. We do not order a retrial."

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