Priest's trial on abuse charges is called off

 

PROCEEDINGS against a Catholic priest who denies 19 charges of sexually abusing two young boys between March 1975 and August 1981 took a dramatic twist at Derry Crown Court just hours before the trial was due to start yesterday.

Father Edward Kilpatrick (52) was to have become the first Catholic priest to contest sex abuse charges before a Northern Ireland jury. Instead, the trial, which would have made legal history, was called off when it was discovered that vital witnesses had mixed in the same seating area outside the courtroom with members of the 90-strong jury panel.

Mr Eugene Grant QC, defending, said he was reluctant to apply for the jury panel to be discharged.

"Unfortunately contact between an alleged injured party and at least one witness has occurred due to an intermingling between the alleged injured party and members of the jury panel," Mr Grant said.

"It is a matter of the perception for potential contamination, and I apply for the panel to be discharged," said Mr Grant.

Judge Tom Burgess said his feelings on the matter exceeded irritation and disappointment. "It is a matter of great regret for all of the parties involved in this matter. The court is faced with a fait accompli," he said. "Both the defence and the DPP expressed their irritation and disappointment at what has taken place. What I feel goes beyond irritation and disappointment.

"It is extraordinary that this state of affairs should have arisen. There is nothing unique in this case and this court is used to dealing with jury trials," he said.

Judge Burgess said he would now "revisit" his decisions on two earlier defence applications that the trial should not go ahead because of a time delay. On both occasions, Judge Burgess ruled against the defence applications.

The court will sit again today and Judge Burgess will rule whether there should be any trial. The defendant was given administrative leave from his post as parish priest in Murlog, near Lifford, Co Donegal, after the allegations against him were made.