Irish folk legend McPeake cleared on all charges of child sex abuse
World renowned traditional Irish folk musician Francis McPeake III has been acquitted of all 12 sexual offences he was accused of committing against a 15-year-old schoolgirl.
The grey-haired, bespectacled 72-year-old replied "no comment" when asked by reporters if he wished to say anything as he left Belfast Crown Court.
The case had sent shock waves through the tight-knit traditional music community in which the McPeake family is so well-known.
So renowned was the McPeake family dynasty over the last half-a-century that some of the biggest names in mainstream world music – Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Pete Seeger and many more – became friends and admirers of their musical style.
Mr McPeake, wearing a white shirt and tie for his court appearance yesterday, had earlier smiled in court as "not guilty" verdicts were read out.
The trial had been ongoing for the best part of two weeks and Mr McPeake's wife and family came to the court building with him every day, although on occasions the details in the case were too much and Mrs McPeake sat outside the actual courtroom.
Mrs McPeake was present when the case ended yesterday and her husband hugged her when the verdict came that cleared his name. The court building is just a short distance away from Mr McPeake's home at Eliza Street Court in the Markets area.
He left for a new address last year when details of the allegations against him were published on Facebook and in the Press.
It was reported that riot police had to be called to his home to disperse a mob of about 60 people. In court yesterday, after deliberating the 12 charges over a period of around four hours, the foreman of the jury told a packed court that they had reached a unanimous verdict on all the charges that were levelled against the musician.
As the first not guilty verdict was returned, Mr McPeake closed his eyes and breathed deeply before smiling and raising his eyes skywards.
His smile remained as not guilty verdicts were read on all 12 of the charges.
As he sat in the dock, the woman who made the allegations cried in her mother's arms in the public gallery, just yards from Mr McPeake.
The woman – who is now 20 and who claimed she was involved in a sexual relationship with Mr McPeake when she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl – left the court before all 12 verdicts were returned.
When all the not guilty verdicts were returned, Judge David McFarland told Mr McPeake: "You have now been acquitted by this jury of all the charges. You are now free to go."
At this point, Mr McPeake looked over at the jury and said "thank you very much, thank you".
Clearly emotional, Mr McPeake then walked from the dock to the public gallery, where he was embraced by his wife, other family members and friends. During the course of his trial, Mr McPeake was accused of several offences, including sexual activity with a child.
The woman claimed she and the pensioner first became intimate during a cross-border music trip in 2009, and that when they returned to Belfast, their relationship became sexual.
However, this was always denied by Mr McPeake, who branded the girl's allegations "lies".
During the trial, the jury of six men and six women heard evidence from the girl, her friends and several family members.
The jury also heard evidence from Mr McPeake, who told them that all the allegations against him were untrue.
He said that at the time he was offering support and guidance to a troubled teenager who was going through personal problems – maintaining that nothing sexual or intimate ever occurred between them. The case had attracted widespread media coverage given the high profile the McPeake family had in music.
The family group had grown out of the McPeake Trio – Francie McPeake I (who died in 1971) and his sons, Francie II and James.
When Francie I died the family gave up performing.
There was a revival in the late 70s but when Francie II died in 1986, that seemed to be the end of the performing McPeake Family.
Instead, Francie III, along with his son, yet another Francis, put their energy into the music school that his father had started, building it up into a major operation.