A FERMANAGH priest convicted of sexually assaulting three young sisters has had some of his convictions overturned.
New evidence was produced at the Appeals Court in Belfast regarding the conviction of Father Eugene Lewis of the White Fathers Order and three sisters from County Fermanagh.
The case ran for four weeks in 2011, following which Father Lewis was convicted of eleven charges of indecent assault.
However, after the charges were appealed, the Court upheld eight of the charges but ruled that three others were unsafe.
The Court of Appeal considered the matters and handed down a ruling which was published by the Court Service of Northern Ireland this week.
Father Lewis was 76 years old at the time of his trial in May 2011, when he was found guilty of eleven charges of sexual abuse of the three sisters, on dates between August 1963 and September 1973, the girls being as young as seven years old at the time.
The court heard that the abuse had been carried out at the children’s family home, after the priest had become friendly with their parents.
During the trial, the prosecuting QC, Ken McMahon, had commented that Father Lewis had appeared to have ‘wormed his way’ into the family and noted that, whilst he was welcome at the family home at any time, he often chose to go there at bedtime or Saturday bath night.
A fourth sister gave evidence during the trial, of an alleged sexual assault against her, by the defendant, at St Augustine’s College, Blacklion; however no charge arose from that allegation.
While eight indecent assault charges, involving two of the sisters, have been upheld, all three charges of abuse carried out against the third sister have been found to have been unsafe, during the appeal process.
The charges which were found to be unsafe were alleged to have occurred, firstly, between 27th August 1963 and 26th August 1965, when the complainant was seven to eight years old, with the second charge being between the same dates, and the third being between 27th August 1965 and 26th August 1967.
The decision to throw out the three charges stemmed from fresh evidence in the case, with regard to further medical disclosure regarding the sister in question.
While some medical records from the woman’s GP had been disclosed during the trial, other medical evidence had remained confidential.
When this information was later accessed, it was revealed that, during treatment for other matters, investigation was made into her past, at which stage she claimed that she had never been sexually abused, neither did she make any reference to allegations against Father Lewis in this context.
It was argued that this could be seen as constituting a complete contradiction of her evidence during the trial.
Moreover, the Appeal Court judges pointed out that, had this medical information been made available to the defence at the time of the original trial, counsel would have cross-examined the woman regarding her statement that she had never been sexually abused.
It was argued that this may have caused the Jury to have looked at matters in a different light.
The eight charges against Father Lewis which were upheld by the Court of Appeal involved the indecent assault of the other two sisters.
One child was sexually assaulted between 23rd May 1965 and 22 May 1969, when she was seven or eight years of age.
Whilst the grounds of appeal included the claim that too much time had elapsed since the offences had occurred, for the defendant to receive a fair trial, this was not upheld by the Appeal Court.
Likewise, the suggestion that the trial Judge had been wrong to have allowed a comment made by the defendant that St Louise’s School, where he had worked, was a ‘girls’ factory’ to be admitted as evidence, was also rejected.