Belfast Telegraph

Ex-SDLP councillor who sexually assaulted teen girl gets four month sentence

Former SDLP councillor Brian Duffin was convicted and sentenced at Antrim Courthouse today for sexually assaulting a teenager in her own home.
Former SDLP councillor Brian Duffin was convicted and sentenced at Antrim Courthouse today for sexually assaulting a teenager in her own home.
Former SDLP Brian Duffin outside court. Credit: BBC

By Paul Higgins

A former SDLP councillor convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager in her own home was jailed for four months.

At Antrim Magistrates Court, District Judge Nigel Broderick told an emotional looking 73-year-old Brian Duffin that despite his good character and references, “given the age and vulnerability of the injured party, I consider the custody threshold has been crossed.”

Although the judge imposed a four month jail sentence, following an application from defence counsel Chris Sherard he freed Duffin on £500 bail pending an appeal of both the sentence and conviction.

Following a short contest at an earlier hearing last month, the judge convicted Duffin, a father and grandfather from the Cargin Road in Toomebridge, of sexually assaulting his 17-year-old victim on 16 June 2016.

The court heard then how the pensioner, who resigned his position with the SDLP on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council after he was initially charged, “stuck his tongue” into the mouth of the teenage girl, had one hand on her breast and the other on her inner thigh during the sexual assault.

During the four hour hearing, an hour long Achieving Best Evidence video interview the police held with the victim was played to the court where the teenager recounted how Duffin sat down right beside her on the sofa, even though there were other places to sit.

“I thought I could trust him and talk to him,” she told the interviewing Detective but then described how, when she began to her upset talking about her ill grandfather, Duffin put his arm around her and asked her for a kiss.

“He said ‘everything’s going to be ok’ and then he asked ‘give me a kiss’ so I went to give him a kiss on the cheek and he grabbed my head and put it towards his....he was coming forward and I couldn’t get my head back,” she told the detective.

“He kept coming at me and I couldn’t get back and then he stuck his tongue down my throat - I just froze, I panicked,” she continued, demonstrating how Duffin had one hand in her breast and the other in her upper, inner thigh.

Estimating the attack last about ten seconds, she said Duffin’s tongue was “all around my mouth” and when she managed to get up off the sofa, neither she nor Duffin said anything but he took his wallet out and took out £40 which he put on the table and walked out.

Calling a friend and two relatives while she was “in hysterics,” she told the court when she told her mum what happened, “she just kept repeating ‘dirty dirty b******’.”

Under cross examination from Mr Sherard, the teenager denied suggestions that she had “misinterpreted what happened.”

The lawyer put to her that what had actually taken place was a bear hug and that she was “over reacting.”

She denied that however, telling the lawyer that the way Duffin kissed her “was like a snog - I’m not over reacting.”

Giving evidence to the court on his own behalf Duffin, a father of 11 and grandfather to 19 kids, denied any wrong doing on his part, claiming he doesn’t “have the foggiest idea” why the victim had made allegations against him.

He claimed he had gone to the house to see the girl’s mother but the teenager appeared “a bit mopey” so he put his arm around her to comfort her.

Mr Sherard asked the now disgraced former councillor a series of questions : “did you rub her, grab her breast, feel her leg, did you grope her?”

To each and every one, Duffin simply said “no.”

“Did you touch her breast,” Mr Sherard asked and was told emphatically: “absolutely not. As a councillor I have a code of conduct that I have to operate under.”

During cross examination from prosecution Briege Gilmore, she put to Duffin if his councillor’s code of conduct would “not preclude you from going to the house of a 17-year-old girl in her night dress and sitting beside her on the sofa.”

Convicting Duffin, Judge Broderick said allegations of sexual assault where it was one person’s word against another were the “most difficult cases to resolve,” telling the pervert that he “may not agree with my decision but that’s for another day.”

In court today, Mr Sherard highlighted that having been involved in politics since 1968, Duffin’s conviction was a “significant stain on otherwise excellent character” and had left the pensioner “emotionally distraught and personally devastated.”

Handing up numerous references including from his parish priest Fr McWilliams which cited Duffin’s honesty, reliability and generosity, Mr Sherard recounted how in his political career the former councillor had set up Moneyglass Community Centre and Maghera Round Table and had raised money for Habitat for Humanity.

He also handed to the judge a letter from the director of TIDAL in Toome and from the sisters of two young boys, one of whom he saved from drowning in Lough Beg.

While acknowledging his previous good character and references, Judge Broderick said there were numerous aggravating factors involved in Duffin’s offence including that it was of a sexual nature, involved a minor who was vulnerable young girl of 17 and that she had to come to court and give evidence against the pervert pensioner.

In addition to the jail sentence, the judge imposed a five year Sexual Offences Prevention Order, the terms of which include having no contact with anyone under 17 without approval from a risk manager, not to stay overnight at an address without approval, not to frequent facilities for children's education or play or loiter at same without approval from a designated risk manager.

Duffin must also sign the police sex offenders register for seven register for seven years.

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