'misogynist culture' | 

Trial hears army officer accused of sexually assaulting female officers should not be ‘scapegoated’

The officer is accused of assaulting two female soldiers following a social function held at an army base at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic

Stock photo

Andrew PhelanSunday World

AN army officer charged with sexual assault should not be "scapegoated" over the "misogynist culture" in the Irish defence forces, his lawyer has told a trial.

The officer is accused of assaulting two female soldiers following a social function held at an army base at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A prosecutor said the case went to "the heart of what it means to be a leader" in the defence forces and urged a military board to convict him.

Closing speeches were delivered in the six-week trial before the board - the equivalent of a jury - retired to begin deliberations this evening.

The General Court Martial is being held at the Military Justice Centre in Dublin's McKee Barracks.

The defendant, a married father in his 30s who cannot be named, denies six charges including four sexual assaults and two physical assaults on two non-commissioned officers (NCOs) on the night of June 25, 2020. He originally faced a total of 17 charges but he earlier pleaded guilty to five - two counts of drunkenness, one of disorderly conduct and two physical assaults.

Seven other charges inclduing sexual assault, assault and further counts of alleged misconduct have either been withdrawn by the prosecution or will be subject to acquittal by direction of military judge, Colonel Michael Campion. The incidents allegedly happened at an army base which also cannot be identified under reporting restrictions ordered by the judge.

Earlier, closing speeches were delivered by Commandant Sean Coffey BL for the prosecution and Feargal Kavanagh SC, defending.

Comdt Coffey said the complainants were “discreet, trustworthy, highly experienced” NCOs and “clear, reliable" witnesses. He said the case went to “the heart of what it means to be a leader in the defence forces.”

“When female members of the defence forces carrying out their duties are at risk from our own members, action needs to be taken, discipline must be upheld and members must be called to account,” Comdt Coffey said, urging the board to find the accused guilty.

Mr Kavanagh told the board there had been "a misogynist atmosphere and culture" in the army for years, and "it’s time it was dealt with and it all came out in the wash."

"But you don’t want to be labelled or have it suggested there is some scapegoating going on here,” he said. He said the board had to restrict its considerations to the evidence.

“There’s somebody’s life on the line,” Mr Kavanagh said, telling the board the accused was “hard-working, diligent and loyal” with years of “exemplary service” to his country.

“He’s brave, he’s honest, he was not sober - we accept that,” Mr Kavanagh said. “He now finds himself in a situation where his career is over, effectively,” he said. “You might bear in mind it’s a serious matter with serious repercussions. Deal with him fairly.”

During the trial, evidence was given by both alleged victims, the accused and several other defence force members.

However no details of their evidence can be published by order of the judge.

In the sexual assault charges, the accused allegedly placed one hand around the first NCO’s back and used his other hand to pull her head towards him, leading her to believe he was attempting to kiss her, and separately pulling her head towards his genital area.

He allegedly placed both his arms around the second complainant's torso in an inappropriate manner and without her consent as well as subsequently moving his open palms up and down her back while saying: “Come on, come on.” One physical assault charge relates to the alleged pulling of the first NCO's head towards his face. A second alleges he moved towards the second NCO, causing her to apprehend she would be physically assaulted.

He denies all these counts.

The charges he pleaded guilty to were disorderly conduct by saying "I'm a prick" in the soldiers' presence, physically assaulting one NCO by grabbing her wrist and the other by placing his arms around her torso.

The state withdrew counts of disorderly conduct that alleged the accused said "me dick" and "me cock" in the NCOs' presence, and asked two male soldiers "do you know who I am?"

The judge directed the board to acquit for legal reasons one charge of moving towards the second complainant, causing her to apprehend a sexual assault, one count of physically assaulting the first complainant by placing his hand on her shoulder and a count of disorderly conduct by telling a male soldier to "f**k off."

Extensive reporting restrictions on the identity of soldiers, the location of the incidents and other evidence relating to military details were imposed by the judge.

The board consists of five male and two female senior ranking officers from the army, Naval Service and Air Corps. Under court martial rules, convictions require at least a 5-2 verdict of the board. On conviction, a sentence, if any, is decided by the judge.

Today's Headlines

More Courts

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos