There were no surprises in the reasons given by the Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday for its decision two weeks ago to grant Nora Wall a certificate of miscarriage of justice, clearing the way for her to sue the State for her widely-reported wrongful conviction for the rape of a child in her care.
The court outlined how the jury convicted Ms Wall on the sole charge corroborated by Patricia Phelan, a witness whom the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had decided should not be called to give evidence against her. Through a breakdown in communication within the prosecutorial system, she was called. It later emerged that she had a history of making accusations that were not substantiated. After the trial, she admitted she had fabricated her evidence. The appeal court also outlined the history of the complainant, Regina Walsh, including a number of unsubstantiated allegations by her against other people, time spent in psychiatric care, and the fact that her recollection of the central charge against Nora Wall rested on "flashbacks".
The episode is a salutary lesson in the dangers inherent in a trial conducted in circumstances where public outrage against a group of people is combined with a flawed Garda investigation.
Although the evidence against Nora Wall's co-accused, the homeless and psychiatrically ill alcoholic Paul McCabe, could not be used formally against her, the fact that both cases were heard together cannot but have influenced the jury. Paul McCabe confessed to the rape, at which Nora Wall was alleged to have assisted. He is now dead, but there is much that is questionable about the case against him, not least how a vulnerable man confessed to gardaí to a crime for which the DPP now acknowledges he is entitled to be presumed innocent. Investigating gardaí would also have known of the dubious history of Ms Phelan.
The charges were laid at a time when allegations of the abuse of children in institutions had entered the public domain. The case was heard within a month of the broadcast by RTÉ of the States of Fear programmes. The jury could not but have been affected, it seems, by the horrific abuse exposed in that series and by the complaints of the child victims that no-one listened to them.
It is to be hoped, at this stage, that no-one will refuse now to listen to a child who makes a complaint. Equally, the Wall case demonstrates that some people, especially those damaged by their life experiences, can make false claims or confess to crimes they did not commit. The right of all accused to a fair trial remains paramount.