The case against five family members accused of abusing their child relations is “vague”, the evidence is “fundamentally contradictory”, and the dates are mismatched, a jury has been told.
A 66-year-old man and his three sons, aged 38, 40 and 41, are on trial at the Central Criminal Court charged with numerous counts of sexually abusing four family members, who were all children at the time.
The 63-year-old wife of the oldest man is also on trial charged with assisting one of her sons who allegedly anally raped her granddaughter and assaulting her granddaughter.
The court has heard that the alleged offences occurred between 1999 and 2005 in various locations around the country. The jury has been told that the complainants and the accused are all part of an extended Traveller family.
The five defendants deny all the charges against them. The complainants are the oldest couple’s daughter and granddaughter and their two nephews.
In his closing speech to the jury on Monday, James McGowan SC, representing the 41-year-old man, said there were a number of inconsistencies in the evidence.
The complainants in the case of his client “contradict themselves, and then they contradict each other”, he told the jury.
This man has pleaded not guilty to a total of 31 charges, including 21 counts of raping his sister, four counts of sexually assaulting her and three counts of orally raping her. He has also denied two charges of anally raping his niece and one count of raping her.
In the case of the man’s sister, Mr McGowan said she had made seven statements to gardaí between 2015 and 2016 in which she “lumped her brothers together”.
“You saw her in the witness box. You saw her demeanour,” Mr McGowan said. “You must decide whether she was telling the truth, whether she has it correct or whether she doesn’t have it correct.”
Mr McGowan said the woman clearly had difficulty remembering what happened, but he noted that at one stage when she was having difficulty remembering details of the allegations, she was also making a civil claim in the High Court for which she later received damages.
He said she changed her story in relation to aspects of the abuse while in the witness box, and there was evidence that her brother was not living with the family at the time of the alleged abuse. “Is she a reliable witness? Can you rely on her evidence to convict my client? I say no.”
Mr McGowan said he was not criticising the prosecution nor the investigating gardaí, whom he said carried out an extensive investigation.
“It’s a criticism of the evidence given by the complainants,” he said. “It can’t be explained away by saying they were children on the side of the road. They are not children now.” He urged the jury to acquit his client on all counts before him.
Dominic McGinn SC, defending the 38-year-old man, said it was a difficult case involving a “traumatic upbringing”, according to the complainants.
He said the jury’s natural inclination would be to believe the allegations before the court, but he said it was not enough for the jury to decide the allegations had a “ring of truth” to them or that the alleged abuse “probably” happened.
Instead, the verdict must be based on “analytical judgement of the evidence”, he said.
This man is charged with 36 offences. He has pleaded not guilty to 22 counts of raping his sister, four counts of sexually assaulting her and six counts of oral rape. He has also pleaded not guilty to two counts of anally raping his niece and two counts of anally raping his male cousin.
Mr McGinn said it was “troubling that the allegations before the court were not as black and white as the prosecution would like you to believe”. He said the allegations were “vague”, and none of the complainants were able to give accurate detail about the actual incidences of abuse.
He said the defence met a “brick wall” when they cross-examined the complainants on the details of the allegations.
In relation to the sister, he noted she had placed the allegations against her brother as occurring from between the ages of 14 or 15 to when she was about 16. But Mr McGinn noted a number of counts on the indictment against this man fell outside of this date range.
He noted that three witnesses – a neighbour, a local garda and a social worker – had placed the family as only coming to live in one particular site in about 2005 or 2006, but a number of allegations are alleged to have taken place at this location a number of years earlier.
“What is in the charge sheet is not the same as the evidence, and you’re obliged to return verdicts in accordance with the evidence,” Mr McGinn said. Taking into account the vagueness and the “mismatched” dates, among other factors, he urged the jury to return not-guilty verdicts in relation to his client.
Paul Murray SC, representing the 63-year-old woman, said that while the prosecution had tried to paint a “bad picture” of his client, a social worker who worked with the family had not given any evidence of witnessing alcohol abuse, physical abuse or neglect in the family.
This woman has pleaded not guilty to assisting one of her sons – the 38-year-old man who allegedly anally raped her granddaughter – and one count of assaulting her granddaughter. A third count of assaulting her nephew was withdrawn, the jury was told on Monday.
Mr Murray said his client had no history of previous convictions, had raised a large family and had been entrusted with rearing foster children – some of her relatives – by the health board at the time.
Mr Murray said his client had no idea her daughter’s child – whom she also raised as her own – was, in fact her husband’s child until she was shown DNA results.
He noted that she told gardaí she had “nothing to hide” and vehemently denied the charges against her in relation to her granddaughter.
Mr Murray said it was not the jury’s job to “fill in the gaps left by the prosecution”. He said the dates in the case were “not understandable”, and he adopted Mr McGinn’s position that if the jury finds the dates are wrong, then it cannot convict.
He told the jury that if it acquitted the woman’s 38-year-old son of abusing her granddaughter, then it must also acquit her in relation to the allegations which are related to this.
“Ultimately, it’s a matter for you, and you alone, to determine whether my client has committed any offence and whether at this stage in her life, entering her 64th year, having regard to her history…whether she deserves having a verdict of guilty in respect of either or both counts,” he said.
In the final speech to the jury, Ciaran O’Loughlin SC, defending the 40-year-old man, said the evidence of his client’s sister was “fundamentally contradictory”.
This man has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges against his sister, including 23 charges of rape, five counts of sexual assault and three counts of oral rape.
Mr O’Loughlin said the sister’s evidence that she was abused by her father and three brothers two to three times a week could not be applied to his client, who he said had a partner and was no longer living with the family at the relevant period.
“The obligation is on the prosecution to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Mr O’Loughlin said. “There are massive doubts there.”
He said he did not believe the sister had deliberately lied or misled the jury. He said it was possible she was looking back on “childish horseplay” with her siblings, which had then “morphed in her mind into this gross abuse over a number of years”.
He told the jury her evidence was “so contradictory, you can’t act on it”. He urged it to acquit his client of all charges.
The trial continues before Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring and the jury, with Ms Justice Ring giving her charge to the jury.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800-77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.