A case of alleged historical sexual abuse has collapsed after a judge ruled there were “significant inconsistencies” in evidence given by prosecution witnesses, thereby impacting on the complainant’s case.
The defendant, who is aged in his fifties and from County Fermanagh cannot be identified for legal reasons. He had been accused of indecently assaulting a female on a date between 1997 and 1999. His trial got underway in Dungannon last week after he pleaded not guilty to the single charge.
The complainant claimed a sexual assault occurred at the accused’s home whilst she was staying overnight with family members in County Fermanagh.
The matter was first reported to An Garda Siochana in 2014, as the complainant resides in the Republic , and shortly after that to PSNI, as the alleged offence occurred in Northern Ireland.
But over the course of the trial the complainant’s evidence diverged on a number of specific issues. She accepted telling Garda a number of points but when making a complaint to PSNI a matter of months later, “the evidence shifted”.
On being asked to provide an explanation for this the complainant replied “I don’t know.”
On the third day of trial a defence barrister highlighted a list of inconsistencies to His Honour Judge Rafferty QC and argued the case should be thrown out.
This included one statement by the complainant saying the defendant had a double bed and then claiming it was a single bed – a position which changed in between the involvement of the two police forces.
There were also inconsistencies over whether there had been a television in the defendant’s bedroom and where the bed itself was located.
The defence also made reference to a significant family fall-out which had effectively split them in two.
There was bitterness among family members, and according to the defence this was what lay behind the allegation of sexual assault.
This had resulted in a letter being written which spoke of numerous grievances, which were described in “stark detail and clearly heartfelt”.
After retiring to chambers for around 45 minutes the judge returned with a ruling.
He recounted the defence challenges and accepted them in most areas.
Judge Rafferty remarked, “The complainant shied away from using the word ‘bitter’ in reference to the family dispute, and made it clear she did not write the letter.
As a witness for the prosecution the complainant’s brother sought immediately to distance himself from the same letter and its contents, and I was left in no doubt of that.
This impacted significantly on the complainant’s evidence.”
In relation to memories of events being confused due to the passage of time, Judge Rafferty said that would have been a factor if the complainant had not given statements to An Garda Siochana as an adult in 2014, and then differences emerging just months later in statements to the PSNI.
He continued, “I am satisfied there are very significant inconsistences. It would fly in the face of reason to continue this trial. I am so persuaded that this case should not proceed further.”
The jury returned a finding of not guilty by direction of the judge, after which the defendant was told he was free to go.
A number of family members seated behind him in the public gallery broke down in tears of relief, and rushed to him as he walked from the dock.
The complainant was not in attendance for the ruling.
After a brief adjournment, before a lawyer for the PPS confirmed there will be no appeal of the decision.