Our Very Own Miscarriage of Justice
Deaglán de Bréadún
One associates the expression, “miscarriage of justice” with the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and other such cases in the neighbouring jurisdiction so it is slightly disconcerting to see the term surfacing in the Irish courts.
Yet even the great Kafka could hardly have imagined such an horrific narrative as we are confronted with, in the saga of the young Galwayman sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for child sex abuse on the false testimony of a ten-year-old child. The sentence may have been the least of it: the ignominy that went with it was probably far worse.
The court report is carried below. The one redeeming feature of the story is that the child, now an adult, admitted she had lied. This restores one’s faith in humanity and, indeed, one can only applaud the young woman for her courageous gesture and wish her well now that she has unburdened herself of a terrible secret. It is said that she “found God” and clearly it is a God of mercy.
It would be terrible to think that a true and genuine charge of sexual abuse could be frustrated by the example of this case and that an abuser could escape from justice because of any doubts raised by these particular circumstances.
At the same time, it has to be said that we need to hear more. Further investigation is warranted. For example, did any person or persons coach the young girl before she gave what is reported to have been very detailed evidence (she denies it)? There was a vociferous (if initially not very popular) campaign on cases like the Birmingham Six. Let’s have the full facts on the Galway case. Herewith today’s court report:-
Sex assault conviction a miscarriage of justice
Tue, Apr 28, 2009
A CO GALWAY man has had his conviction for sexually assaulting a young girl more than a decade ago declared a miscarriage of justice following admissions by her that she lied about the alleged offence.
The three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday certified Michael Feichín Hannon’s 1999 conviction for sexual assault and assault of then 10-year-old Una Hardester was a miscarriage of justice.
Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, sitting with Mr Justice Daniel Herbert and Mr Justice John MacMenamin, said this was an “alarming and disturbing” case where an entirely innocent man was convicted by a jury and the appeal court was unimpressed by the “wickedness or gravity of what was done”. He said Mr Hannon was entitled to have his good name restored.
The granting of a certificate also means Mr Hannon is entitled to seek compensation from the State.
Ms Hardester had in 2006 admitted her claims were untrue. The appeal court ruled that those admissions amounted to newly discovered facts, rendering the conviction a miscarriage of justice. It rejected the DPP’s argument that a miscarriage should not be certified on grounds of no wrongdoing by the State or its agents.
Mr Justice Hardiman said the issue in the case was very narrow, whether a convicted person, now recognised as having been at all stages innocent of the charges, was entitled to a certificate. The issue was not to be confused with the separate issue of whether only a person whose innocence was recognised as uncontrovertible was entitled to such a certificate.
Mr Hannon (34), Attymon, Athenry, Co Galway, originally from Clifden, received a suspended four-year prison sentence at Galway Circuit Court after being found guilty by a jury of sexually assaulting and assaulting Una Hardester near her then home at Aughrismore, Cleggan, Co Galway in January 1997.
Outside court yesterday, Mr Hannon said he “always maintained my innocence” of the crime of which he was convicted.
“I am very pleased and relieved that my conviction has been quashed and that the court has confirmed I suffered a miscarriage of justice. The day has long been coming.” The last 10 years had been difficult for his family who also had to live with “the stigma” of a conviction for something he did not do, he said.
Mr Hannon said he was “disappointed” that the DPP had “fully resisted” his application for a certificate. “No State agency or department has ever apologised or expressed regret for what happened to me,” he said.
“If what happened to me is not a miscarriage of justice what is? I hope that more care will be taken in the future to ensure that it never happens again.”
Mr Justice Hardiman said this case was unlike any miscarriage of justice of which the court was aware in that the defence had not complained about the Garda investigation or conduct of the trial and Mr Hannon had not appealed.
He said Ms Hardester, now in her 20s and living in the US, had in 2006 made statements to gardaí in Co Galway withdrawing her original complaints against Mr Hannon, admitting these were not true, fabricated and false in their entirety. She said she had decided to come clean after “finding God”.
She also said her motivation for making these allegations was “revenge and misplaced loyalty to my family ” and she now wanted to tell the truth so Mr Hannon’s name could be cleared.
The judge noted the two families lived near each other but fell out in a dispute over land. A few days before her complaint Ms Hardester had been in court with her father, Crofton, who was convicted of assaulting Mr Hannon’s father.
Ms Hardester said she had never come into contact with Mr Hannon at any stage in his life and was never coerced or coached by anyone. She had done something terribly wrong and got away with it, whereas others, especially Mr Hannon, had paid a heavy price.
Ms Hardester also apologised to the State and all other involved in the case for wasting their time and money. Mr Hannon found out about the retractions “by chance” when a member of his family met her in November 2006.
© 2009 The Irish Times