09 Aug 2022

Verdict wait in rape case appeal that centres on Midlands Prison Portlaoise visit

Rapist father whose victim allegedly "recanted" during prison visit must wait to hear outcome of appeal against conviction

The Midlands Prison PortlaisePicture:  Finbarr O'Rourke

Visit to prisioner at The Midlands Prison in Portlaoise at the centre of appeal.

A man jailed for repeatedly raping his daughter, who then visited him at prison in Portlaoise and allegedly “admitted telling lies” during the trial, must wait to hear the outcome of an appeal against his conviction. 

The young woman gave evidence to the Court of Appeal last week that she was “manipulated” into visiting him in the Midlands Prison by his relatives shortly after the trial. 

It is not in dispute that she sent a Facebook message to one of his relatives indicating a willingness to sign an affidavit and cancel the charges. However, the young woman said she was being pressured by her father’s relatives on the basis that he was starving himself to death in prison and his life was in her hands. 

Her father’s lawyers told the Court of Appeal that the very fact of the prison visit was materially inconsistent with her evidence in the trial, three weeks earlier, that she was in "grave danger" being in this man's presence.

Last February, the 47-year-old man was found guilty of sexually assaulting and raping his daughter in various ways in Co Mayo and abroad on dates between 2006 and 2010 when she was aged between seven and eleven. It was a one-witness case which relied entirely on her credibility.

The Central Criminal Court heard that the first rape took place shortly after the death of her mother. He referred to her by her dead mother's name and continued to do so during subsequent attacks, the court heard. 

Describing his offending as “depraved”, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment with the final year suspended. The man had pleaded not guilty to all offences and continues to maintain his innocence. Their details must not be published to protect the victim’s identity. 

The man’s lawyers are seeking to adduce “new evidence” which, they say, was capable of being believed by the jury thereby rendering their client’s conviction unsafe. 

Counsel for the father, Micheál P O’Higgins SC, said the victim subsequently “recanted” and “admitted telling lies during the trial”. It placed a significant question mark over her credibility and it wasn't possible to be certain that his client's conviction was safe.

"Why would she visit him at all and show affection to the man she says destroyed her life,” Mr O’Higgins said. 

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Fionnuala O’Sullivan BL, said the complainant was an extremely vulnerable girl who had been in the care of the State in the run up to the trial.

Ms O’Sullivan said there was "invidious manipulation" of the victim by her stepmother to cancel the charges in the run up to the trial. 

“Low and behold,” after the jury convicted her father, the pressure continued, Ms O’Sullivan said. 

Giving evidence to Alex Owens SC, for the DPP last week, the young woman said her father’s relatives were sending her messages after the trial “making it out that his life was in my hands".

She recalled one message which said "your dad is going to die and you're the only person who can stop that from happening”. In another message, she was told: "your dad has not much time left".

Ms O'Sullivan said the DPP accepted that the prison visit happened and that she sent a Facebook message indicating a willingness to sign an affidavit and cancel the charges. But the DPP does not accept the victim ever actually said "I lied". 

For a short period of time, the victim threatened to retract but in fact did not, Ms O’Sullivan said.  

Mr Justice John Edwards, who sat with Ms Justice Máire Whelan and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, said the court would reserve its judgment. 

In an affidavit, the father said he was “overjoyed to see” his daughter at a non-screened visit in the Midlands Prison and that he “did not blame her for what happened”. It was “highly emotional” and his daughter was “at all times affectionate and referred to me as dad”. 

“We spoke of all the good times we had together.” He said his daughter hugged him, kissed him and repeatedly said she was sorry.

She allegedly told him, he stated, that ‘I’m going to get you out of here dad; it’s all my fault and it’s going to be alright.’ 

The victim gave evidence to the Court of Appeal that she was “manipulated” into visiting her father in prison by his relatives on the basis that he was starving himself to death and was on his death bed.

In a subsequent sworn affidavit, she stated “I did not say he was not a rapist” and “I did not say he did not do those things to me”, contrary to assertions by her father’s relatives. 

Under cross-examination from Mr O’Higgins, the woman said she told her father in prison that she would withdraw her statement because she believed he was on his deathbed and would die in prison.

She agreed she said “yes” because at the end of the day, he was her father and “I wanted to believe what happened (the abuse) didn’t happen at all”.

"I cried for the whole [prison visit]. I didn't really talk. I didn't know what I was doing. I couldn't believe it... It wasn't me."

“I went into that prison as one girl and left as the girl I am now.” 

"It was my first time in prison. Even though he had been in prison plenty of times when we were young, I didn't visit."

Referring to her father, she told Mr O’Higgins: ”Your client asked me to cancel the charges. I told him I would. Did I? No."

"The fact I'm even back here one year on, losing sleep over your client (her father) I don't know. I've nothing to hide,’ she said to Mr O’Higgins. 

When asked if she doubted herself about the abuse, she said: "Of course I doubted myself, I didn't want it to be true but 12 people randomly selected gave me the answer I needed to get on with my life... And here I am again."

She said her father's family were "brainwashing a girl who had just conquered her fear ... brainwashing me to manipulate me".

Mr O’Higgins asked if she was claiming she had been “lured or pressurised” into visiting her father in prison

“There’s proof of that Mr O’Higgins,” she said referring to messages from her father's family.

Mr O’Higgins put it to her that: “the reason you said what you said to various people and the whole fact of you visiting the prison, was entirely consistent with you feeling guilty about having told untruths at the trial.”

She said she had already explained herself.

“When it dawned on you, you may now face exposure to criminal prosecution you decided to recant,’ Mr O’Higgins put it to her. 

“I was entirely manipulated,” the victim said. 

Under cross-examination from Alex Owens SC, for the DPP, the man agreed the prison visit was “an emotional event” which lasted about 35 minutes. 

A couple of days prior to the visit, he said it was indicated to him by his partner that his daughter may be coming in to see him. 

He denied “absolutely” that the purpose of the meeting was to try to influence his daughter and “pull at her heartstrings” to get him out of prison. 

"I wanted to see her; I was concerned for her welfare”. He said he was “positive” it wasn’t the other way around. 

“You were persuading her to drop everything,” Mr Owens suggested. 

“My view of the situation was I didn’t deserve to be in prison,” the man said. “She enquired how she could get me out of there.”

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