Carrick-on-Shannon Circuit Court sat for two days in Monaghan last week where evidence was given via video link by the complainant in a case of sexual assault against her father
The trial in which a man is accused of sexually assaulting his daughter over a seven year period between 2006 and 2013 came to an abrupt end on Tuesday morning when the jury was discharged from their duties by Judge Eoin Garavan at Carrick-on-Shannon Circuit Court.
It was expected the jury of eight men and four women would be given their instructions by Judge Garavan before beginning their deliberations on Tuesday morning but instead an application was made by Fiona Murphy BL to have the jury dismissed which she said: “I don't make lightly.”
The court heard jurors became aware of details of the defendant during a conversation last Friday, with concern expressed it could jeopardise the fairness of the trial.
The defendant, who cannot be named so as to protect the identity of the complainant, was arraigned before Judge Garavan on Tuesday, February 5 facing a total of 19 counts. The majority of the charges related to kissing of a sexualised nature and one related to a sexual assault by exposing and forcing to touch his private parts. There were also two counts of unlawfully coercing a child to engage in a sexual act. The defendant pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The case was opened on behalf of the prosecution by Conor Devally SC who emphasised the presumption of innocence the defendant must be given saying: “the onus of displacing it is on the prosecution.”
Mr Devally added: “There is no such thing in legal terms as abusing a child over a 10-year period. You have to be satisfied in each one of the charges. There are 19 trials, not just one.”
It was explained to the jury by Mr Devally that “sexual assault is indecent touching of an unwanted nature.”
Evidence via video-link
The first day of evidence saw proceedings move to Monaghan courthouse where the alleged victim gave evidence via video link. The facility to do this was not available in Carrick-on-Shannon which was the reason for the change in location.
The complainant gave evidence of her childhood, describing in detail the layout of her home and the ages of her various siblings.
She recalled her father was depressed and took “a lot of medication.” She added: “He spent a lot of the day asleep in bed.”
When asked by Mr Devally if her father had difficulties going to the loo the witness replied: “He was awful. I had to get a carton so he could pee in it. I know that he knows. He would be lying in bed sleepy and drowsy.”
She added her father would urinate in the carton before removing the blanket to expose himself “with his private parts on show. I would be crying my eyes out in shock.”
Continuing her evidence she said: “My dad forced me to touch his private parts.”
When asked to specify where she was referring to she said: “The lower part of his body. I think you know what I mean. I don’t want to say it.”
When asked if the incidents started before her youngest sister was born the witness replied: “Oh yes. Including touching his private parts until stuff came out.”
When asked if this happened more than once she answered: “I don’t know. I definitely remember him doing it once. I didn’t want to but I had no choice.”
When asked to specify when it happened she said: “It was the day after mum’s brother had died. I’m pretty sure that’s when it happened.”
Later in her evidence she returned to this incident when she said: “He had his trousers down and forced me to touch his private parts. I stood there for ages crying. He wanted me to lie in bed with him. He wanted to have sex with me; he wanted to put his private parts in mine. I said no.”
She recalled shortly afterwards a family member knocked on the door and her father instructed her to say she was folding clothes.
The witness referred to another incident when she was getting dressed for school when she said: “I told everyone I was getting changed and not to come into the room. He came into the room looking for his keys even though they were already in his pocket. He came over and rubbed my back inappropriately.”
When asked by Mr Devally about other incidents she said: “Mostly a lot of kissing inappropriately. There was a lot of that and physical abuse. There was a lot of that as well.”
Under cross-examination from Fiona Murphy BL it was put to the witness that the defendant denies any of the alleged incidents occurred to which she said: “That’s not the truth.”
Referring to her role in the home she said: “I did a lot of the work. It felt like I was minding everyone.”
When asked if the incident she earlier referred to which was said to have occurred after the death of her uncle was in 2010 she answered: “I’m not 100% sure. Everything I s`aid happened to me. I’m really bad with dates.”
It was put to the witness by Ms Murphy that her uncle died in 2006 rather than 2010 as she had suggested and that she was only seven at the time of his death.
In reply she said: “Maybe, but 110% I was there.”
Ms Murphy added: “The date is totally inconsistent with your evidence of being 11.”
The first day of evidence came to a close with the witness becoming visibly upset when she said: “I would never tell someone anything that isn’t true. I just want you to know that did happen.”
During the second day of evidence the complainant agreed she told a school friend of the abuse in March 2013 which led to authorities becoming involved in the case.
The second witness in the case was the complainant’s school friend, who under questioning from Mr Devally said they had been in primary school together and were in first year in secondary school in 2013 when she was made aware of the allegations.
The witness told the court: “She asked me ‘what would you do if you were being raped or abused?’ I said ‘I would speak to someone’.”
Having informed a school chaplain, the witness and the complainant were told the protocol was to call the parents. Continuing her evidence the witness added: “I said you can’t because it involves the parents and would make matters worse.”
The school chaplain was the third witness in the case and in evidence she said she was told by the complainant that her father had done things to her that he shouldn’t have.
“At that point I said it was a serious matter and needed to contact the principal.”
The fourth witness in the case, Det Garda David Donnelly told the court of his involvement in the case. He recalled An Garda Siochana were contacted by Tusla saying the complainant wished to tell her full story having previously been interviewed by specialist interviewers.
Det Garda Donnelly gave evidence of his interviews with the defendant who said he was ‘totally shocked’ by the allegations.
Det Garda Donnelly gave evidence of putting the allegations to the defendant who replied with answers including: ‘that never happened’; ‘total nonsense, she’s telling lies’; ‘me and my wife cannot understand where she is coming up with these filthy words’ and ‘she has told a lot of lies and I maintain my innocence.’
On November 23, 2015 directions were received from the DPP to proceed and the defendant was arrested and brought to court. After being arrested he said: “I never touched my daughter.”
After the conclusion of evidence Mr Devally said counts 14 and 15 would no longer be going before the jury. Both of those charges related to child exploitation; unlawfully coercing a child to engage in sexual conduct. Counts 18 and 19, relating to sexual assault were the subject of a direction and were withdrawn.
Closing the defence's case Ms Murphy said: “A jury properly directed couldn't find him guilty. All of these things she said can't be the truth because they simply don't sit alongside each other.”
Bringing the case for the prosecution to a close Mr Devally told the jury: “All counts, bar count one, refer to being kissed in a sexualised manner.”
The State was represented by Conor Devally SC, Donal Keane BL and Noel Farrell state solicitor. The defence was represented by Fiona Murphy BL, Joe Mulreane BL, instructed by Ruane Solicitors.
After the collapse of the trial the jury were thanked for their service by Judge Garavan and excused from jury duty for five years with the case adjourned until the February 26 sitting of Carrick-on-Shannon Circuit Court.