Sicko who abducted and raped schoolgirl (12) has appeal thrown out

Belfast man Gerard McKenna was tried fairly before being convicted of rape, sexual assault, child abduction and offering to supply a Class A drug

Gerard McKenna pictured.

Alan ErwinBelfast Telegraph

A man jailed for abducting and raping a schoolgirl failed today in a legal bid to clear his name.

The Court of Appeal rejected claims that Gerard McKenna did not get a fair trial due to flaws in how police obtained evidence from the 12-year-old victim.

With the challenge to his conviction dismissed, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is pressing ahead with a separate attempt to have him kept in prison for longer.

The authority contends that the sentences imposed on both McKenna, 30, and his 26-year-old co-accused Paul Sheridan were too lenient.

In October last year, the pair were jailed for the abduction and rape of the vulnerable girl and sexual assault of her 15-year-old friend.

The victims were attacked on the Lagan towpath near Lisburn two days before Christmas in 2019. A jury heard the girls had been plied with vodka and offered cocaine during the incident.

Paul Sheridan (L) and Gerard McKenna.

Sheridan, from Hillfoot Crescent in Ballynahinch, pleaded guilty to rape, sexual assault and child abduction. He received a sentence of six-and-a-half years.

McKenna, originally from the Whiterock in west Belfast, protested his innocence. During interviews, he denied knowing the younger girl’s name or any involvement in her rape. Amid a series of derogatory comments about the complainants, he expressed a hope that they “burnt in hell for trying to ruin any man’s reputation like that”.

After being convicted of rape, sexual assault, child abduction and offering to supply a Class A drug, McKenna was handed a nine-year prison sentence.

The PPS has referred both sentences to the Court of Appeal to determine if they were unduly lenient.

Initially, however, senior judges heard claims that McKenna’s conviction was unsafe.

His lawyers argued that a detective had prompted the girl when obtaining an additional statement from her about one of the alleged sexual assaults.

The trial judge wrongly declined to exclude the improperly obtained evidence and should instead have directed the jury to acquit McKenna on that count, it was contended.

Ruling on the appeal, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan accepted a clear mistake was made in taking the supplementary statement, but this did not result in an unfair trial.

She pointed out that the girl had also made an immediate complaint about the assault, which was not the most serious of the allegations against McKenna.

Jurors were aware of how the child had been prompted and the police officer’s accepted error.

“The judge was entirely correct to refuse to exclude the evidence and leave this matter to the jury. This approach did not result in unfairness to the applicant,” the Chief Justice said.

“Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal against conviction. We consider that this verdict is safe.”

In a separate move, the PPS has referred both men’s sentences for the court to determine if they were unduly lenient.

That process had been put on hold pending the outcome of McKenna’s challenge to his conviction.

Dame Siobhan indicated the PPS appeal will now be listed for hearing after the Easter recess.

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