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Man jailed for sexually abusing stepdaughter loses appeal against conviction

Riordan pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of sexual assault committed against his step-daughter
Riordan pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of sexual assault committed against his step-daughter

A man jailed for sexually abusing his step-daughter has lost an appeal against conviction on grounds involving the victim's impact statement read to court following his trial.

Michael Riordan (49), with an address at 25 The Orchard, Blackrock, Cork, had pleaded not guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to 21 counts of sexual assault committed against his step-daughter on dates between September 2007 and November 2012.

He was found guilty by a jury on nine counts, acquitted on the remainder by direction, and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on July 4 2014.

Riordan moved to appeal his conviction today on grounds that matters which emerged in the victim's impact statement were “at odds” with her evidence and secondly that the remaining counts should have been withdrawn from the jury on the same basis that caused the other counts to be withdrawn.

Counsel for Riordan, Marjorie Farrelly SC, told the three-judge Court of Appeal that the complainant asserted in her Victim Impact Statement that Riordan would break the shower on purpose so she would have to fill the bath with a kettle to wash herself.

Ms Farrelly said the complainant had given evidence that the accused turned off the shower but asserted in her Victim Impact Statement that he broke the shower on purpose.

While it may seem insignificant, she said, it was all the more important in a case where the complainant's evidence was effectively the only evidence in the case. Any specific assertion of fact should have been made available to the accused for the purposes of cross examination, Ms Farrelly said.

Another aspect of the Victim Impact Statement was the complainant's assertion that the accused didn't like her until she turned 13 but in evidence she indicated that she had always gotten on with him and 'he was like my best friend'.

That was a further detail which wasn't available for cross examination, Mr Farrelly said.

Counsel further submitted that at the close of the prosecution's case, 12 counts were withdrawn from the jury while nine counts were left for deliberation.

It was clear, Ms Farrelly said, that because the trial judge had determined that some of the evidence was “sufficiently deficient” it almost followed that it was unsafe to allow the remaining counts to go to the jury.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jane Hyland BL, said the matters disclosed in the Victim Impact Statement would not have impacted on the fairness of trial.

They were neither material enough nor important enough, she said.

Ms Hyland said the complainant was comprehensively and skillfully cross examined. The revelation of these slightly different facts “in no way” affected the cross examination or fairness of the trial, she said.

With regard to the remaining counts that went to the jury, Ms Hyland said the judge was very careful when he charged the jury. He was was careful to direct them not to speculate and took great care to ensure the fairness of the trial was protected, she said.

Rejecting Riordan's appeal, Mr Justice John Edwards said the alleged new facts were in respect of minor details readily distinguished from new facts qualified by case law.

He said the court did not find itself in the posistion of having unease about the differences and if they had been available to the defence they would not have resulted in a markedly different cross examination.

Mr Justice Edwards said the three-judge court was satisfied that there were legitimate grounds for differentiating between counts which were withdrawn from the jury and counts which remained.

Viewed at its height, Mr Justice Edwards said the evidence was capable of supporting guilty verdicts.

Accordingly, Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, dismissed Riordan's appeal.

He was returned to prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

The victim had waived her right to anonymity in the Circuit Court so that Riordan's identity could be published, the court heard.

Ruaidhrí Giblin