Belfast Telegraph

Pair charged with rape of girl (12) on Lagan Towpath

The men appeared at Lisburn Magistrates Court (Niall Carson/PA)
The men appeared at Lisburn Magistrates Court (Niall Carson/PA)
Paul Sheridan

By Paul Higgins

Two men appeared in court yesterday jointly accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.

Standing in the dock of Lisburn Magistrates Court, Gerard Michael Owen McKenna (27) and Paul Sheridan (23) confirmed they understood their respective charges.

McKenna, from Rockville Street in Belfast, and unemployed Sheridan, from Hillfoot Crescent in Ballynahinch, were jointly charged with the rape and sexual assault of a female child under the age of 13 on Monday.

Shop employee McKenna was also charged with three counts of sexually assaulting a second girl aged 15, tendering counterfeit currency, stealing alcohol worth £2.99 from a Spar shop and two counts of making a threat to kill two males.

According to the charge sheet detailing the offences, Sheridan made no reply after he was cautioned. McKenna made an obscene comment when the rape offence was put to him and declared other charges as “madness” and “not true”.

It is understood the charges follow an incident on Lagan Towpath on Monday.

Giving evidence, Detective Sergeant McArthur said he could connect both men to the charges against them and that police had objections to their bail applications amid fears they would commit further offences or interfere with witnesses.

He outlined how the two children were with the defendants at the Towpath on Monday afternoon when McKenna allegedly “held the 12-year-old’s hand and kissed her” before sexually assaulting her with his hand and having sex with her. The officer said the same girl also alleged that Sheridan held her hand and kissed her before raping her, activities allegedly done “without her consent”.

DS McArthur said McKenna allegedly stole alcohol from an off licence where he also bought beer using a counterfeit £20 note, adding it was after that he is alleged to have sexually assaulted the teenage girl.

“After acquiring alcohol, they went to Belfast by train where further sexual assaults occurred,” claimed the officer.

Paul Sheridan
Paul Sheridan

He revealed that due to the “vulnerability of the girls” neither formal statements nor achieving best evidence (ABE) video interviews had been conducted, so police were proceeding on verbal accounts from the alleged victims, although the ABE interviews will be held “in the coming days”.

Both Sheridan and McKenna were arrested and interviewed. The court heard Sheridan had admitted being with the 12-year-old and that they had touched each other but claimed it had been “over clothing” and with her consent, while McKenna “denied all offences”.

Under cross-examination from solicitor John Burke, acting for Sheridan, the officer agreed that usually a defendant is charged with sex offences once an ABE has been conducted, but told the lawyer “this case has its own aggravating factors and it’s our job to protect the public and that’s why they were charged”.

Solicitor Daniel McCorry, on behalf of McKenna, revealed his client had consented to a forensic examination and asked the detective if he had put forward a number of locations in Belfast where CCTV could be checked.

DS McArthur agreed he had and there would be follow-up enquiries.

Despite defence submissions that the men could be freed with bail conditions to assuage those concerns, District Judge Amanda Henderson said she shared the police concerns “not least to do with the age and vulnerability of the injured parties” so she was refusing bail.

Sheridan and McKenna will appear again via video-link on  January 6.

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