An 85-year-old taxi driver who was jailed for sexually abusing his adopted daughter over a 10-year period has appealed against his conviction, arguing that “missing” evidence made his trial unfair.
In November 2019, John Walker, described by his daughter as "an evil man, a dangerous man", was found guilty by a jury of 40 counts of indecently and sexually assaulting her over a 10-year period between 1990 and 2000, when she was aged between eight and 18 years old.
Walkers' victim, Jennifer Kelly, waived her right to anonymity, allowing him to be named in reporting the case at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
The trial jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict on all counts against Walker, who was jailed for three-and-a-half years in December 2019.
In an emotional victim impact statement read out in court, Ms Kelly, said he had “no regard, no remorse, no humanity”.
“I was your child – your little girl – and you manipulated and abused me for your own gratification,” she said. “You were my dad but you are an evil man, a dangerous man.
“I am a victim of 10 years of unrelenting sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of you, my father. The person who was supposed to protect me from the monsters was the monster,” she said.
Walker, with an address in The Cova, Whitehall Road, Perrystown, Dublin 12, had pleaded not guilty to indecently and sexually assaulting his daughter at his home address and their previous home address at Kilmashogue Grove, Greenpark, Dublin 12, between June 1990 and April 2000. At the time of the trial, Walker had no previous convictions and still maintains his innocence.
On Tuesday at the Court of Appeal, Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC, for the appellant, said that there were three grounds of appeal in his submissions to the court.
Mr Ó Lideadha said that as two witnesses were unable to give evidence at the trial, trial judge Ms Justice Patricia Ryan should have given the jury a warning about evidence corroboration and a more strenuous warning to the jury about the delay in the case.
Counsel said his third ground of appeal was that his client’s ability to pursue a line of defence could have been reasonably damaged by the “missing evidence” of these two witnesses.
Mr Ó Lideadha said that the victim’s mother was deceased at the time of the trial and that her evidence could have shed light on whether or not there was a lock put on the victim’s bedroom door, which was denied by Walker.
Counsel also said that in the trial, it was remarked by the victim that on one occasion when she was in bed with her mother, Walker got into the bed and started abusing her.
Another unavailable witness was a teacher who, at the time of the trial, was suffering with dementia. Ms Kelly told the trial that the teacher witnessed her get sick when a programme on child safety, called Stay Safe, was delivered by the teacher to her sixth-class pupils.
Mr Ó Lideadha said that while a warning to the jury about the delay between the offending and the trial was given, it was not a “full-blooded” warning.
Counsel said that while the judge did deliver a delay warning over the missing witnesses, she had also added the comment that “you might think them irrelevant” to the jury. Mr Ó Lideadha said that this comment might have undermined the force of the judge’s warning about missing witnesses.
Counsel said that a corroborating evidence warning was not given to the jury, despite an application from the defence to do so.
A corroboration warning is a warning the judge gives the jury, which highlights the dangers of convicting a defendant on the basis of uncorroborated evidence.
Mr Ó Lideadha said that while none of the three grounds by themselves were “killer punches”, if taken together he submitted that they amounted to “real grounds for concern” regarding the fairness of the trial.
Monika Leech BL, for the State, said that there was “no evidence” before the trial that Ms Kelly told the teacher about the abuse. Ms Leech said that there also was nothing to say that the teacher’s evidence would be significant and that there was no evidence raised at trial about the relationship between Ms Kelly and the teacher.
Counsel said that “speculation” about what evidence the teacher might have had was not of any assistance.
Regarding Ms Kelly’s deceased mother, Counsel said that the victim could not bring herself to ever tell her mother about the abuse and no disclosures of any type were made by her to her mother.
Ms Leech said that the trial judge charged the jury as she did because “the evidence of Jennifer Kelly was very strong and compelling in the circumstances” and that the trial judge had urged the jury to use “common sense”.
Counsel said that in the trial there was only a “remark” about the lock on the bedroom door and that the abuse had also taken place at other locations in the house and in Walker’s car.
Ms Leech said that whether or not there was a lock on the bedroom door and the potential evidence of the two witnesses never formed a “significant” part of the prosecution’s case at trial and therefore were not enough for the conviction to be set aside.
Presiding judge Mr Justice George Birmingham said the court would reserve judgement in the case.