Northern Ireland woman must remain in custody over child sexual abuse charges, judge rules
WARNING: Readers may find some of the details below upsetting
A woman who allegedly dressed a little girl in lingerie to be raped by her husband must remain in custody, a High Court judge ruled on Friday.
Bail previously granted to Heather Talbot, 57, was overturned amid claims she took part in the abuse and fuelled her partner's child sex fantasies.
Prosecutors also contended that online chat logs point to the Co Down couple having targeted other, still unidentified, young victims.
One discussion on the dark web referred to the ideal age being up to three because after that "they talk too much", a judge was told.
Talbot, a cleaner from Kinghill Avenue in Newcastle, is charged with eight sexual offences including aiding and abetting rape, inciting and committing gross indecency with a child, and indecent assault on a female.
She is further accused of making, possessing and distributing indecent images of a child.
Her 58-year-old husband, Gary Talbot, faces similar offences and two counts of raping the girl.
The charges against them relate to a period between 2001 and 2003 when the child was said to be aged between two and four.
Police uncovered the alleged abuse after they searched the couple's house in October last year, seizing computers and mobile phones.
Crown lawyer Philip Henry revealed that up to 500,000 indecent images of children were found.
They included photographs allegedly depicting both defendants in sexual activity with the alleged victim at their home, the court heard.
The girl was described as wearing stockings and revealing underwear in some of the images.
Gary Talbot was said to have told police he made "sexy photographs" of the girl, and admitted to raping and sexually assaulting her.
His wife was allegedly present and may have taken some of the photos, according to his account.
The court was told she denies recording any of the abuse, but accepted accompanying him to buy the lingerie outfits after discussing his sexual fantasies about children.
"She admitted purchasing the items with her husband, that she had dressed the victim for her husband and that she was present when a number of the photographs were taken of the child... undressing," Mr Henry said.
"She claimed she was not aware what happened after this between her husband and the victim."
Heather Talbot also told police other images of her and the girl both naked were innocent.
It was claimed, however, that the couple used fake names 'Mike' and 'Fiona' to frequent online swinger sites and visit dark web chatrooms.
Based on the content of some alleged conversations, Mr Henry argued there had been other child victims.
During one chat in May 2011 'Mike' states that 'Fiona' "will play with any age girl", but believes boys would be "no fun" until they are about two, counsel claimed.
Another entry, again believed to have been by the male, discussed the couple seeking types of sexual activity with children and described bathing together with a child nine years previously.
Asked in the online exchanges if there had been any others, the reply was: "A few, but mostly one-offs and none as long as we had with her."
Mrs Justice Keegan was told police believe this was a reference to the girl in the photographs.
Another chatroom discussion allegedly referred to 'Fiona' "doing her dirty talk about tiny ones" and adds that after the age of two "it's too much of a risk".
The prosecution contended that a further exchange took place with someone who displayed an image of a five-month old girl.
According to Mr Henry that prompted the reply: "For us the ideal age to play with is up until three, because after that they talk too much."
Gary Talbot had been remanded in custody after the couple appeared together at Downpatrick Magistrates' Court on Thursday.
Bail was initially granted to his wife at that stage, prompting the prosecution to lodge a High Court appeal against the decision to release her.
Appearing by video-link from Hydebank women's prison, Heather Talbot sat with arms folded throughout the fresh hearing.
Opposing her release due to the risk of re-offending, Mr Henry claimed she was just as active a participant as her husband.
"In 2011 he described her as the 'master perv' and the one from whom he gets all his ideas," the barrister said.
He further submitted that the chatroom logs pointed to activity with other unknown youngsters.
"Given the type of offending described... there's been more than one victim, and there's a risk of further offending with other defenceless young children," he said.
Defence counsel Tom McCreanor insisted there is no evidence of Heather Talbot being responsible for any of the online chats.
Arguing that his client's husband has admitted activity against the young girl, he told the court any references to "we" does not establish she played a role.
"The potential involvement of this lady is to the extent that we know she had made certain admissions about some years ago buying clothes," Mr McCreanor said.
"Some of the chat from him (Gary Talbot) clearly implicates him in offending, but it's conversation.
"The talk of other victims is at this stage speculative."
But granting the prosecution appeal, Mrs Justice Keegan cited the potential risk of interference with the administration of justice in a case where other potential victims may emerge.
Ruling that Heather Talbot must be refused bail, the judge said: "I'm not convinced at the moment that a case is made out in relation to the minor role suggested by the defence."
Belfast Telegraph Digital