Northern Ireland judge slams actions of domestic violence suspects at bail hearing
A judge has hit out at domestic violence suspects who try to keep close to victims in order to have them withdraw their complaints.
District Judge John Meehan, a stern critic of domestic abuse, made the remarks as he set strict bail conditions for a Co Tyrone man who disappeared off the justice system's radar.
John Stephen McDonagh (21) was due to appear at Dungannon Magistrates Court on January 10, but failed to turn up, resulting in a bench warrant being issued for his arrest.
McDonagh of Sydney Lane, Aughnacloy, is charged with assaulting his fiancee on December 14 last year, and damaging her clothing.
A police officer explained there was no indication of McDonagh's whereabouts until he presented himself in court with his solicitor yesterday, seeking to have the warrant executed.
But by that time, the victim had withdrawn her complaint - prompting a stern intervention by the judge.
Seated in the dock, McDonagh was clearly agitated whilst the details of case against him were read out.
Whilst a defence solicitor accepted the allegations concern domestic violence, he advised the court: "I understand the injured party has made a withdrawal statement."
Judge Meehan replied: "Surprise, surprise.
"When did the victim withdraw her complaint?"
The police officer confirmed this was on March 2.
The judge said: "And then the defendant turns up at court a few days later to have the warrant executed and expects that's the end of it?
"No. Once a suspected perpetrator of domestic violence, charged with attacking a woman, gets the chance, it's game on.
"They know the best chances to persuade victims to withdraw is by sustaining the closest possible guard on her."
He continued: "The defendant was released on bail after being charged, to have no contact with the victim or entering the area of her home.
"Of course, having conditions like that would be difficult, so he simply absented himself from January until today.
"Then, and only then, he presents himself to court, in the knowledge that the withdrawal statement has been made.
"It's all fairly transparent."
However, both police and prosecution said they were not objecting to the re-granting of bail, provided conditions were imposed.
Judge Meehan set bail at £400 and ordered McDonagh to reside at his Aughnacloy address and no other, abiding by a curfew from 10pm to 7am every night.
The ban on contacting the victim or being within 100 metres of her home was reinforced.
In addition, a cash surety of £400 was ordered to be lodged with the court prior to McDonagh's release and he is to be electronically tagged.
Concluding, Judge Meehan warned the defence: "This is perhaps one of the most serious instances for failing to appear on the specimen charges - given what has emerged - this court has had to deal with."
McDonagh appeared very angry by the proceedings, gesturing to family members seated in the public gallery.
On being taken back into custody until his bail was finalised, McDonagh demanded his solicitor attend with him at once.
The case is due back in court later this month.