A 64-year-old Laois man has been found not guilty of indecently assaulting his own sister over a three-year period in the 1970s.
Judge Keenan Johnson found the man not guilty after a three-day trial at Portlaoise Circuit Court, after deeming the State’s case to have not met the high standard of proof required.
State prosecutor, Mr Will Fennelly, said it was the State’s case that between 1974 and 1977, the accused indecently assaulted his sister, who was aged between 13 and 16 during this period.
The accused was nine years older than her.
The alleged victim, now 55, gave evidence that every Saturday her parents would go off to do the shopping, leaving her and her younger sister to clean up.
She claimed that her brother would come in and grab her by the hair, and if she put up a fight he’d put his arms around her waist, lift her up to the bedroom and throw her down on the bed.
“He’d throw me down with force and lift up my clothes and pull down my trousers. Then he’d take his penis out and rub it up and down me,” she said.
She claimed that he put his penis between her breasts and squeezed them so hard, and tried to put his penis in her mouth.
The woman claimed that her two other brothers were also present, with one standing by the window to keep watch for their parents and the other at the bedroom door to keep her younger sister out.
She claimed that this abuse happened “almost every Saturday”, and only stopped after she got sick with her thyroid glands at the age of 16 or 17.
The woman told the court that following the death of one of her brothers in 2008, she was left three acres in his will.
She said that following her mother’s death in 2011, she began the legal process of acquiring the land, but in 2012, the accused, who was executor, issued a letter to her solicitor, in which he said he would not sign over the land until she withdrew the allegations against him.
“I was willing to let this go until I received that letter, that’s when I approached the gardaí,” she said.
She concluded: “I’m not a liar, I would never say someone abused me.”
Mr John Shortt put it to the witness that she was claiming the abuse happened every Saturday, yet she took no steps to avoid it.
The witness replied that she had nowhere to run to or hide.
Mr Shortt asked her what kind of a battle she’d put up during the alleged abuse, to which the witness replied she’d scream and try to push him off, but he was holding her two hands.
“If he was holding you with his two hands, how did he do things?” asked defence.
Witness replied that the accused’s hands would move up and down.
Mr Shortt described as nonsense the claim that her other two brothers aided and abetted the accused.
“My whole family was involved in this,” replied the witness.
She said that her parents were so afraid of the accused they “put money into his house”. She rejected defence’s suggestion that this was a source of bitterness.
She went on to say that every Christmas her mother would give her a cheque for €100, but her mother would give the accused a cheque for €300 “or he could hit her”.
She also said that her sister had seen a cheque for €800, which her mother said she had to give the accused “or he’d kick off”.
“This all seems to be about money,” said Mr Shortt, going on to say that she had only complained after the dispute over her late father’s estate.
She replied that she flipped after receiving the letter in 2012, in which the accused said he wouldn't sign over the land until she withdrew the allegations.
The court heard that around April of 2014, the DPP directed that the prosecution not go ahead due to insufficient evidence.
After this, the witness appealed and wrote to the DPP herself.
“You said if the prosecution wasn’t brought against the accused then you couldn’t live with that decision,” said Mr Shortt. The witness agreed this was correct.
The alleged victim’s younger sister, now aged 50, also gave evidence.
She said her brother would grab her sister, drag her upstairs and throw her on the bed, or, if the girls were outside hiding, he’d find them and do the same.
She said her other brothers would try to prevent her from going into the room.
She said the accused would tell her not to say anything or there’d be big trouble.
“He said the Black Mariah would take me away,” she said.
In cross-examination, Mr Shortt asked why had she not made the claim to the gardaí regarding the threat of “the Black Mariah”, to which she replied: “I did say it, it wasn’t put into my statement.”
Mr Shortt put it to her that one of her other brothers denied ever seeing the accused doing anything.
“Well, I remember,” replied the witness.
Mr Shortt then read from a document written by the witness, in which she claimed to have seen the accused sexually abuse a neighbour in her own home.
Mr Shortt said that the neighbour did not recall any of this when questioned by gardaí.
“She remembered him making a pass at her as a teenager, but it was harmless fun,” said Mr Shortt.
“I’m just saying it as I recall it,” said the witness.
Mr Shortt then read another letter written by the witness, in which she said: “it should be him paying us to keep him out of jail.”
Mr Shortt said that sounded like blackmail, and asked why, if the accused deserved to go to prison, should he be paying to stay out of jail.
The witness did not answer this.
The investigating garda, Garda Karen Anderson gave evidence.
She said that when interviewed after arrest, the accused said: “(The alleged assaults) did not occur, I can swear on the bible.”
The accused also said he couldn’t be sure, but he believed the allegations were made because of land.
Mr Shortt asked Garda Anderson about the statement made by the sister of the alleged injured party, in which she mentioned a Black Mariah. Garda Anderson replied she didn’t know what that was.
“You’re showing your age,” smiled Judge Keenan Johnson.
Added Mr Shortt: “You’re a lot younger than I am, Garda Anderson, you weren’t raised on Charlie Chaplin and Ealing comedies.”
Judge Johnson informed her it was a reference to a prison van.
The garda confirmed that no one else interviewed by gardaí was able to confirm what the alleged victim and her sister were saying.
Mr Shortt referred to the statement of one of the accused’s brothers, who said: “It’s a total fabrication of lies altogether. I think it’s all after money and property.”
The brother denied ever witnessing any assault or standing at the door to keep his other sister out.
Garda Anderson informed the court that the DPP initially returned a direction not to prosecute the accused.
The matter was then reviewed and this time the decision was made to prosecute. Garda Anderson confirmed that between the first and second decision, no further evidence was gathered.
At the conclusion of the State’s case, Mr Shortt made a lengthy legal submission to the court in the absence of the jury.
He described the entire case as “a good old-fashioned Irish row over inheritance”.
After considering the matter carefully, Judge Johnson said: “The jury couldn’t but have a reasonable doubt.
“I’m not saying the State witnesses are being untruthful, but the State's case does not meet the high standard of proof required. I’m merely applying the law,” he said.
Verdict: not guilty by direction of the trial judge.
** A Laois man whose brother was implicated in an alleged indecent assault on his sister, has contacted the Leinster Express to point out that documentary evidence proving he was not present during the alleged assaults was produced at the recent circuit court.
The man’s brother, a 64-year-old Laois man, was recently found not guilty of indecently assaulting his sister over a three-year period in the 1970s.
Following a three-day trial at Portlaoise Courthouse, Judge Keenan Johnson deemed the State’s case to have not met the high standard of proof required and found the man not guilty.
In a statement to the gardaí, the brother said he was required to work every Saturday in a local garage. He said there would have had to have been a serious reason for him ever to be off work on a Saturday.
State prosecutor, Mr Will Fennelly told the court that the owner of the garage, where the accused’s brother worked, provided the gardaí with a letter proving the brother worked every Saturday. Mr Fennelly said that the owner had the letter ready for the gardaí when they arrived.