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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 5, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    How an Innocent Man Fared at the Hands of the State

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Appalling things happen in this country week in, week out. There is uproar and outrage over them but it all blows over in a few days. Usually, another shocking story comes along to supersede the last. There are so many, it is hard to keep up with them.

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     Michael Feichín Hannon, who has been granted a certificate of miscarriage of justice by the Court of Criminal Appeal, with his partner Martina Kelly. (Photograph: Garrett White/Collins)

    But sometimes there is a case that has such serious implications that it would be a gross wrong to let it be swept under the carpet. The miscarriage of justice in the case of Michael Feichín Hannon is one of those.

    The role of officialdom and the State in this case has to be looked into further. Here we had a young man of 22 whose family were involved in a land dispute with a neighbour. The head of the neighbouring family was convicted of assaulting Hannon’s father.

    Shortly afterwards, ten-year-old Una Hardester – motivated, she says, by revenge for her father’s conviction - accused Hannon of sexually assaulting her. The terminology she used seems very grown-up for a child although she denies having been coached.  Mr Hannon was duly convicted and given a four-year suspended sentence. 

    But some years later, Ms Hardester declares that her original testimony was fabricated. Does the State inform Mr Hannon of this? No, he finds out through his sister who accidentally bumps into Ms Hardester at a petrol station.

    Mr Hannon then goes to his solicitor who seeks the official documentation that will clear his client’s name. But the file has been mislayed. It takes 18 – agonising for Mr Hannon no doubt – months for the file to be re-assembled.

    Ten years after his original conviction, Mr Hannon’s name is cleared. The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is against declaring the case a miscarriage of justice but that is the finding of the court.

    This is a very disturbing sequence of events. As Michael Clifford pointed out (click here) there are echoes of the Brigid McCoole blood transfusion case. The Dáil reconvenes  tomorrow and presumably some of our public representatives will take up the matter.

    One would like to know more about the initial investigation but the part that really raises one’s eyebrows is the failure of the State to inform Mr Hannon of the retraction of Ms Hardester’s evidence and the mislaying of the file. Click here to read my previous post on this case and the news report in The Irish Times. For a report on the missing file, click here.

    • Kynos says:

      The appalling vista that opens up is that from the moment his accuser came forward for whatever reasons she had and admitted fabricating her accusations out of spite and a desire for vengeance, the GS knew this man was innocent. The Guards knew that the charges against him were a pack of lies, yet due to a mislaid file it took 18 months for this wrong to be rectified and for poor Mr Hannon to have his good name restored. Justice delayed is justice denied and rarely is that fact thrown into such sharp focus as it is here.

    • Deaglán says:

      With respect, Kynos, it was not at the Garda level that the file was reported to be mislaid. However, it is reported that the Garda Síochána was aware of the retraction by Ms Hardester but clearly did not feel it had a responsibility to inform him of the fact.

    • Kynos says:

      Thanks for the clarification Deaglán. Not much comfort in it for any of us but thanks. It would seem in this case, and I can only imagine also in many others that it is sufficient to accuse. Delphidius would be delighted.

    • Deaglán says:

      Well it appears that Mr Hannon has no complaints about the conduct of the original trial, but rather about what happened after the witness’s retraction.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, If Mr Hannon had no complaints about the original trial then that is up to him but the rest of us should have very serious complaints about it. Testimony from a 10 year old which was taken purely at face value with no forensic evidence and with an awareness of an existing feud between the families (over land): someone in officialdom should have queried that. I would be interested in there being some scrutiny of the assessment of Hardester by those who questioned her. I presume transcripts were kept, I’m not saying they should necessarily be placed in the public domain but someone who can be viewed as unbiased should review them to see if the possibility of a revenge motive on her part was explored.

      Sexual assault especially of a child is one of the most repugnant crimes there is, but it is cases like this that cause otherwise sensible men to fear out of all proportion that they might fall victim to false charges and, even worse, conviction on the basis of false claims.

      The report in the last week or so that Ireland has the highest rate of false reporting for rape in Europe should also be of concern for a number of reasons that Brenda Power touched on in the Sunday Times at the weekend.

    • Deaglán says:

      In fairness, Dan, there was a time when the child complainant was automatically disbelieved in this country when making claims of sexual assault and we don’t want to go back to that either.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, we shouldn’t go back to those days but given that this trial was in 1997 it might be worth considering that we swung pretty quickly from turning a blind towards the problem even in the early to mid 90s to locking people in circumstances like that of Mr. Feichín Hannon. It’s amazing how quick a witch hunt can start and how long it can take to come to light.

    • Lefournier says:

      Adrian Hardiman in his appeal court judgement stresses that the trial judge ran the case properly. How then to explain this verdict, especially when the medical evidence was so inconclusive?

      I believe juries are well aware that they are not in possession of all the relevant facts. A juror’s greatest fear is that the media will reveal after the trial that the accused was a serial child abuse.

      Juries also assume “no smoke without fire” i.e. that the DPP and the Gardai would not pursue a charge of this nature if they were not satisfied as to the guilt of the accused. That is a fair assumption in many cases (although it does mean automatic conviction) but I think in cases of sexual assault the Gardai and DPP are unwilling to deny a trial to the complainant or, in the case of a child, the complainant’s family.

    • Deaglán says:

      It’s not clear from your comment, Dan, if you are aware that Mr Hannon’s sentence was suspended.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      I’m aware that his sentence was suspended but I doubt that made much difference to him in his local area. I was more generally referring to the fact that we were locking people up by the time of this case in contrast to the turning a blind eye to allegations like this which would have happened only a few years before.

    • Deaglán says:

      I thought that. I would love to read the original court reports if anyone has them. Maybe they are on our own website, must check. If I were investigating such a case I would be conscious on the one hand of the pressing need to ensure that children’s allegations are taken very seriously indeed, unlike in the old days as stated. But the young lady says now she was motivated by revenge/misplaced family loyalty following her father’s conviction for assaulting Mr Hannon’s father. I gather also that the child used very adult terminology but I have only seen a little of that in the media. You would have thought that would give people pause for thought. The point that the jury may have been worried that the defendant would be revealed as having previous convictions in this area (which he didn’t of course) is a very interesting one. But the really grave issue is the failure to inform Mr Hannon of the retracted evidence and then the mislaying of the file with all the callous carelessness which that implies. Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Lefournier raises an interesting point that with the practice whereby prior charges or convictions are not made known to the jury they may in fact err on the other side, in that a lack of awareness as to whether or not there were prior charges will cause them to act as if there were, when in fact there were not.

      The practice is understandable in that we must ensure that we try the crime, not the person. But the system should be conscious of how people really behave as jurors not just how we think they should behave.

    • Kynos says:

      I cannot understand why, when a witness retracts their evidence when it is the only evidence involved there isn’t a fast-track process to get the case heard by an Emergency Court. Can’t understand why there isn’t such a court (or not to my scant knowledge) to retry cases like this, or cases where someone else has confessed to a crime for which someone’s been wrongfully convicted. There can’t be so many that the system couldn’t be put quickly in place nor so few that it isn’t needed.


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