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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 28, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    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.

     gerry-conlon.jpg
    Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four:
    “Fifteen years for something I didn’t do.”

    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

    MARY CAROLAN

    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

    • RET Precott says:

      Jeez, shouldn’t she be convicted, she should be sent to jail.

    • Liam says:

      Very tragic, I’m amazed that someone can be convicted without any physical evidence or a string of prior allegations etc. So much for “beyond reasonable doubt” being a very high bar to get over. Assuming Mr Hannon was of good character coming into the case so not setting up a bias, for someone to be convicted because of believing one side of a “he said/she said” argument should not be an option.

    • Evelyn T says:

      My sympathies to the young man concerned. It is horrrific to think of the justice meted out by the courts.

    • Una P says:

      I feel sorry for both parties involved in this tragic case. It is a stunning example of how the quarrels and grievances of parents can affect their children.

      Also it is sad that this may lead to doubt in other similar cases of child abuse.

    • Katy says:

      Given the examples of so many other such tragic convictions of innocent persons that have occurred around the world one would have hoped that the Irish Justice and Legal system would have recognized the absolute need for some sort of corroboration instead of allowing this young man to be convicted and imprisoned on the word of a vulnerable 10 year old child. Shame on them all.

      I hope that young man can find the help he needs to rebuild his life.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Having a situation where someone would automatically get a sentence for making false claims would only lead to false claims not being withdrawn. A better alternative would be to have a severe suspended sentence that would kick in only if they do something else. In effect they lose their no priors record.

      I think that the professionals involved in this case need to be subject to a review of their competence giving that they were so easily taken in, and it is possible that other people convicted (probably rightly so) may now look for grounds to appeal because those involved in their cases have a cloud hanging over their judgement.

      And certainly it is worth looking to see if the animosity between the families was noted in court, or was it ignored.

    • Kynos says:

      Said to the Mod on Breaking News the day it was adjudged a miscarriage “was it incompetence or worse” or words to that effect. Someone should be skinned alive for this.

    • Kynos says:

      But then as you say elsewhere what core values? What good making scapegoats? I’d say from what I’ve read of her online Ms Hardester’s been paying a heavy price in her head and life. That’s karma. Small enraged child. Superego is much harder on children than grownups. Feel sorry for her. Hope she follows her better side and finds the courage to fight for human rights. And come back to Ireland. And apologise to the poor man.


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