Man convicted of stepdaughter's sexual abuse in 1970s brings appeal

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Paul Neilan

A man jailed for 10 years for sexually abusing his step-daughter in the 1970s has brought an appeal against his conviction.

The man (71), who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of his victim, was convicted in March of last year by a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of 72 counts of indecent assault, which occurred on dates between October 31st, 1973, and August 24th, 1979.

He was aged 25 and the child was aged six when the attacks began until they stopped when she was around 13.

Barrister Mr Paul Greene SC on Tuesday told Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding at the Court of Appeal, that he was moving to appeal both the sentence and the conviction on behalf of his client.

Mr Greene, who appeared at a remote hearing at the three-judge court, said that his client is appealing the 2019 conviction on five separate grounds relating to the 72 convictions that spanned the years 1973 to 1979, inclusive.

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Mr Greene said that his client had been convicted of the offences of oral penetration, genital rubbing, oral sex and forcing the girl to rub his penis while she was naked at an address in Dublin.

Counsel said his first ground of appeal focused on the delay in bringing the prosecution. He said that the original allegation dated from October 1973, while the first time the appellant had to respond was November 2015 - a 42-year delay.

Mr Greene said that the trial judge, Judge Elma Sheahan erred in not allowing an application from the defence regarding the time-delay involved.

The appellant also claims that the trial judge erred in law in refusing to remove certain counts from the indictment on the basis of insufficiency of evidence.

It is also claimed that warnings to the jury from the judge on the time-delay and on corroborative evidence were inadequate.

It is lastly claimed that the trial judge's charge to the jury was lacking in balance and that it unduly favoured the prosecution.

Mr Greene told Mr Justice Edwards, who also appeared by video-link, as did Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh and Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, that another male referenced in evidence at the trial before the jury in relation to babysitting was never interviewed by gardaí.

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Counsel added that evidence had been heard in relation to digital penetration, the girl being forced to suck the defendant's testicles, forcing her to urinate in his mouth, a "love-bite" sustained by the girl, his offering to pay for oral sex and physical assault only emerged during the trial and was not contained in the Book of Evidence.

Mr Greene added that when this new material emerged it was so late into the trial of his client that the likelihood of the jury being discharged was "remote" and that it raised the question of the trial being "unfair".

Counsel said that there was also an issue regarding the victim's mother's evidence on when she was working nights and when she was attending bingo, leaving her child alone with her stepfather, when the abuse took place.

Mr Greene said that there was "more than a shadow of unfair conviction by the jury" and that there was a "real risk of unfairness" present in the trial itself.

Mr Diarmuid Collins BL, for the State, said that no new detail could be provided by any new witness not interviewed in the case, as the sexual abuse was of an intimate nature and that no other witness was present at the time.

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Mr Collins said that the appellant had not been prejudiced by any delay in the case being heard and that any doubts about the whereabouts of the mother of the victim when the abuse took place was contained, in that the State's case was she was "either at work or at bingo" when the abuse of her daughter took place.

Mr Justice Edwards said that the court would reserve it's decision for a maximum of two weeks before an electronic judgement would be released.

In her May 2019 sentencing, Judge Sheahan said it was difficult to overstate the levels of fear and anxiety experienced by a child subjected to this level of abuse.

She said the attacks had had a devastating effect on the woman, who believed the abuse had also affected her ability to be a mother to her own children.

In her victim impact statement, which was read out in court, the woman said she had to run away from Dublin at the age of 16 due to the abuse inflicted.

The victim said: “I can say with 200% I have never been a child” as her childhood had been taken away from her. She said that the abuse had “scarred me forever and will never go away”.

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