Priest (76) guilty of abusing three sisters

 

A 76-YEAR-OLD priest has been convicted on 11 counts of sexually abusing three young sisters in Northern Ireland almost 50 years ago.

It took the Omagh Crown Court jury of six men and six women four and a half hours to return unanimous guilty verdicts on Fr Eugene Lewis, former provincial superior of the White Fathers but now based at Cypress Grove House, Templeogue, Dublin.

The pensioner priest, who had dismissed the abuse claims as “absolute rubbish . . . they never happened”, showed no emotion in the dock.

During the six-week trial, the jury was told of indecent assaults on the three sisters when they were youngsters, separately and on differing dates between August 1963 and September 1973.

Prosecuting QC Ken McMahon said the priest had wormed his way into the family through a fellow, but innocent, cleric.

Mr McMahon had told the jury that although welcomed into their home at any time, Lewis often chose to call at bedtime or on Saturday bath night. One victim said Lewis abused her while telling her and her sisters bedtime stories in their darkened bedroom.

It was not until two years ago that she finally went to the police, both North and South.

The priest, who swore to police and the jury he “never touched those children”, will be sentenced next month once pre-sentence reports are completed.

The court had heard that the second sister was abused while she too was told bedtime stories by Lewis, who said while he enjoyed story telling, he was “no Hans Christian Andersen”.

The last of the girls he was convicted of abusing had told the court how, when she was aged either 11 or 12, she was sexually assaulted after volunteering to make him a bite to eat, while the rest of the family went to the beach for the day.

His convictions came just as Judge Philip Babington was about to recall the jury to give them directions on the possibility of a majority verdict.

However, it was unnecessary as the judge established that the jury had already reached unanimous verdicts on each of the 11 counts.

Fr Lewis has been freed on continuing bail to await sentence.

Speaking on behalf of Lewis, solicitor Joe McVeigh said: “While he respects the decision of the jury, he is very disappointed and he wants to stress that he remains adamant in his denials”.

Mr McVeigh said that Lewis’s defence team would “consider the position and give some thought to our grounds of appeal”.