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'true predator' Man jailed for sexually abusing 14 girls must wait to hear outcome of his appeal

The man's legal team are arguing Covid lockdown could have put pressure on the jury

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The Central Criminal Court in Dublin.

The Central Criminal Court in Dublin.

The Central Criminal Court in Dublin.

A "true predator" jailed for sexually abusing 14 girls must wait to learn the outcome of his conviction appeal, in a case where his legal team argued that the first Covid lockdown could have put pressure on the convicting jury.

The Central Criminal Court heard last year that from May 1994 up to February 2001 the male carried out sexual assaults on a total of 14 children.

He pleaded guilty in 2002 to attacks on ten of these victims and received a prison sentence of nine years with two suspended. While being interviewed by gardaí, he denied sexually assaulting other girls.

He continued to deny these offences during his trial at the Central Criminal Court in March 2020 but a jury convicted him of 30 counts of sexual assaults of four girls, who were aged between 11 and 17. Ms Justice Tara Burns jailed him for seven years on those offences.

Today, the three-judge Court of Appeal finished hearing the two-day conviction appeal of the 60-year-old Dublin male, who cannot be named in order to protect the anonymity of his victims.

A judgement would be "some time", due to the "multiplicity of arguments" made in the case, said presiding judge Mr Justice George Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh.

Yesterday, the male's barrister, Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC, submitted 11 grounds of appeal, one of which was whether or not Covid 19 had put pressure on the jury to deliver a verdict at the time of the first lockdown in March 2020.

Mr Ó Lideadha said that on March 12, 2020, when the jury was being charged, the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made an "absolutely unprecedented" statement regarding the closing of schools, childcare services and colleges, which were to shut the next day.

Mr Ó Lideadha said that while the Taoiseach did not say for people "not to spend hours on end in a room sitting with eleven other people" it was a "logical conclusion for anyone to come to".

Counsel said that the trial judge could have told the jury to "pause the process of deliberations to ameliorate circumstances" in order to provide time to implement social distancing.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy asked if it was Mr Ó Lideadha's view that jurors could not be trusted to carry out their duty when under pressure.

Mr Ó Lideadha said: "Lots of people were worried and there was an incentive there to get out as soon as possible. There was a real risk that the jurors would feel under pressure to return a verdict."

The barrister said that the jury took just two hours to deliberate before delivering their verdict and that the case had four different complainants with multiple legal and factual issues.

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Today at the non-jury court, Mr Ó Lideadha said that, at the time, social distancing policies had been put in place for "all other juries in the building [the Criminal Courts of Justice]" hearing trials in March 2020 while all new trials had been postponed.

Mr Ó Lideadha said that if it was reasonable that social distancing practices had been put in place on the Monday before the verdict, then it was "reasonable" to think that it could have been a concern on the Friday of the same week, the day the jury found the male guilty.

Counsel said that "everyone else was getting measures to protect them but not this jury". He said it was "not a big ask" for the judge to tell the jury to pause their deliberations until the following Monday in order to "take stock" and ask them if they felt "under pressure".

The barrister said that there was "no justification" in the deliberations proceeding as normal and that the defence had asked the trial judge to ask the jury if they felt under pressure.

Mr Ó Lideadha said that the trial was, taken in its totality, "unsatisfactory" for his client and submitted that the verdict of guilty was "unsafe".

Counsel had said his client had also been "grossly" prejudiced by the introduction of evidence in front of the jury by a witness who mentioned that the male had been "locked up" in England.

Today, the barrister said that he was not being critical of the trial judge in her warnings to the jury regarding the "prejudicial" matter of theft convictions raised by the witness. "The warnings were as good as they could have been but no warning could have been sufficient in the circumstances," he said.

Mr Ó Lideadha had also submitted that his client's trial was dealing with complaints that were "decades" after the event, which was "inherently unfair".

In addition, counsel had said that there may have been "demands" made between complainants to make statements, which could have led to a "possible collusion or contamination of evidence" from the said complainants.

Mr Ó Lideadha had said that Facebook messages between complainants had been deleted that could have shown if pressure had been put on one of the complainants to make a statement, which, if so, could have helped the defence.

Counsel said the missing material was "highly likely" to be relevant and that it could have been of assistance to the defence.

Today, Mr Ó Lideadha said that when one of the complainants was cross-examined at trial over the missing messages she said she could not remember if the messages included a statement "with things like 'you better make a statement'" to another complainant.

Mr Ó Lideadha had also said that there was an obligation on gardaí to take careful notes regarding their communications with "disparate" complainants in the case, which had not been fully done.

Counsel said that it would have been "important and helpful" for gardaí to take notes, records and audio records of the taking of statements to provide a "very significant safeguard" in the case.

Today, he said that there should have been proper notes taken regarding whether or not a garda who was in communication with complainants asked a specific question about the appellant's penis.

Mr Ó Lideadha said that while this was denied by the Garda, two complainants said it was possibly so. This was, he said, a "demonstration of the significance of notes not taken in the first place".

Counsel added that in a "multi-complainant scenario" there was a "particular need to guard against cross-contamination" of evidence.

The barrister had said the trial judge's charge to the jury in the case regarding identification of the male was "inadequate" and that there was only a "fleeting" view from one of the complainants of his client, at a time when another male also resided at the same apartment.

Mr Ó Lideadha had said one of the complainants, a 12-year-old who had been drinking, had been facing away from a male who abused her and he submitted that this male could have been another man who was in the apartment on the night.

Counsel had said this complainant had no recollection of before or after the event and only had a glimpse of the male as he left the bedroom from the light in the corridor.

Today, Mr Ó Lideadha said that the identification warning given by the judge to the jury was that they "consider all the facts in the case" but that this warning had to be "tailored to particular facts of the case", which he submitted was not done. "It's impossible to get over that fact," he said.

He said that this complainant was possibly drunk, woke up in darkness, that there was evidence of another male in the house on the night of the offence and that he had "very significant concerns the jury did not apply the normal rules" when convicting.

Counsel added that the trial judge should have withdrawn this charge from the jury and that she had declined a defence application to do so.

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