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Former principal to learn if he will face trial on historical child abuse allegations

Richard Duffin (78) at court in Belfast

A JUDGE will rule next week on whether a former principal of a Catholic primary school is fit to stand trial on historical child abuse allegations.

Richard Duffin (78), formerly of Ballysallagh Road, Cargan, Ballymena, is awaiting trial on eight counts of indecent assault, cruelty to children under the age of 16 and two counts of common assault.

The offences are alleged to have taken place between June 1975 and June 1981 against three males while he was principal of St Joseph's PS in Ballymena.

He "robustly'' denies all the charges.

Today at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, his defence team advanced an abuse of process application stating Duffin was not fit to stand trial due to medical conditions.

Defence counsel Neil Connor QC said Duffin faced charges dating back 42 years and was now a man of "advanced years''.

He told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that the pensioner was interviewed five times by police in 2013 and said "it has taken some time to get this case to court''.

"During the course of these interviews he was able to answer the questions and participate in the interviews,'' said Mr Connor.

"But since then his condition has rapidly deteriorated. In fact, my instructing solicitor spoke coherently with him in September last year and he was able to attend court with the help of a walking aid. However, he is now confined to a wheelchair and remains in that wheelchair throughout the day until he goes to bed.''

Mr Connor said that according to medical reports, Duffin suffered from medical conditions including Parkinsons Disease and epilespy.

The reports also stated that he suffered a stroke in 2014 and three heart attacks.

A doctor's report for the defence stated that he did not believe Duffin would be fit to stand trial and instruct his lawyers.

Prosecution counsel Tessa Kitson objected to any stay in proceedings saying that measures could be put in place to assist Duffin. She said these included the use of a registered intermediary, his interviews could be played to the jury and he could be given regular breaks.

"He has given very robust answers to the questions at police interview. Over the period of five interviews he robustly denied every single allegation in very considerable detail, outlining where he was at the time the offences were alleged to have been committed.''

Judge Kerr said that he wanted to "consider all the papers in the case'' before giving his ruling on the abuse of process application.

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