Belfast Telegraph

Innocent: man who suffered two-year ordeal after teen serial liar accused him of sexual abuse

By Paul Higgins

A man unanimously acquitted of raping and sexually abusing a child has been put through an horrendous two-year ordeal, his lawyer has said.

The Antrim Crown Court jury of eight men and four women deliberated for just 40 minutes before returning to declare 30-year-old Jonathan McNeill not guilty of the final two counts against him.

Afterwards Mr McNeill's lawyer blasted the police and Public Prosecution Service after it emerged the teenager had made similar baseless accusations against other men.

Mr McNeill's family were forced to leave their home, and he served the equivalent of 10 months in jail.

Following a defence application at the end of the Crown case last week, trial judge Paul Ramsey QC directed the jury to acquit Mr McNeill of six of the eight charges he faced.

It had been the Crown case that Mr McNeill, originally from Coleraine but now with an address in Antrim town, had groomed the girl through text messages.

It had been alleged he took her from the children's home where she lived to his flat and had sex with her, giving her money afterwards.

Mr McNeill had always maintained he was innocent and had done nothing wrong, always denying the charges of human trafficking, child abduction, rape, meeting a child after sexual grooming and four counts of sexual assault and sexual activity with a child, all alleged to have occurred on January 28, 2015. In a statement following the jury's acquittals, Mr McNeill's defence solicitor Ciaran Shields called on the police and PPS to have a more strenuous process of vetting complainants, revealing that the teenager had made unsubstantiated claims against other men.

"This has been an horrendous two years for Mr McNeill and his family. He was arrested on the word of this teenager in January 2015. They had to move from their family home as a result," he said.

"He was refused bail and served the equivalent of a 10-month prison sentence before finally being granted bail on some of the most onerous bail conditions I have come across."

He added: "Jonathan always maintained his innocence and has spent the last three weeks sitting in the dock of a Crown Court amid lurid reporting of this case in the Press.

"He has asked me to thank the jury, who recognised these allegations for what they were in delivering not guilty verdicts in just 40 minutes today.

"These allegations were made by a serial complainant who, despite her years, made similar baseless allegations against other youths or men previously.

"None of this information was ever made known to the judges who deliberated on four separate unsuccessful applications for bail in 2015.

"It is now incumbent on the Public Prosecution Service to introduce an effective procedure for properly assessing the truthfulness and credibility of complainants in similar cases, before proffering them as truthful witnesses and directing criminal prosecutions against those accused by them.

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