Northern Ireland news

Former SDLP councillor Brian Duffin sentenced for sexually assaulting teenager

Brian Duffin is a former SDLP councillor 

A FORMER SDLP councillor convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager in her own home has been sentenced to four months in prison.

At Antrim Magistrates Court, District Judge Nigel Broderick told an emotional Brian Duffin that despite his good character and references, “given the age and vulnerability of the injured party, I consider the custody threshold has been crossed”.

Although the judge imposed a four-month jail sentence, Duffin is expected to get 50 per cent remission and serve two months on licence.

However, following an application from Chris Sherard, defending, the judge freed the 73-year-old on £500 bail pending an appeal of both the sentence and conviction.

Following a short contest at a hearing last month, the judge convicted Duffin, of Cargin Road in Toomebridge, of sexually assaulting the 17-year-old victim on June 16 2016.

The court heard how the pensioner, who resigned from the SDLP after being charged but remains on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council as an independent, “stuck his tongue” into the mouth of the teenage girl, and placed one hand on her breast and the other on her inner thigh. Duffin sat down beside her on the sofa, even though there were other places to sit.

“I thought I could trust him and talk to him,” she told the interviewing detective on a video played to court, but then described how, when she began to get upset talking about her ill grandfather, Duffin put his arm around her and asked her for a kiss.

“So I went to give him a kiss on the cheek and he grabbed my head and put it towards his,” she told the detective.

“He was coming forward and I couldn’t get my head back... then he stuck his tongue down my throat. I just froze, I panicked.”

The girl demonstrated how she said Duffin had one hand on her breast and the other on her upper, inner thigh.

When she managed to get up from the sofa, neither she nor Duffin said anything but he took his wallet out and took out £40 which he put on the table and walked out.

Under cross-examination from Mr Sherard, the teenager denied suggestions she had misinterpreted what happened.

Giving evidence to the court on his own behalf, Duffin, a father-of-11 and grandfather to 19, denied any wrong doing on his part. He said he doesn’t “have the foggiest idea” why the victim made allegations against him.

He claimed he had gone to the house to see the 17-year-old’s mother but that the teenager appeared “a bit mopey” so he put his arm around her to comfort her.

In court yesterday Mr Sherard highlighted how, having been involved in politics since 1968, Duffin’s conviction was a “significant stain on an otherwise excellent character” and had left the pensioner “emotionally distraught and personally devastated”.

Handing up numerous references, including one from his parish priest Fr McWilliams which cited Duffin’s honesty, reliability and generosity, Mr Sherard recounted how in his political career the former councillor had set up Moneyglass Community Centre and Maghera Round Table and had raised money for Habitat for Humanity.

He also handed to the judge a letter from the director of Tidal in Toome and from the sisters of two young boys, one of whom he saved from drowning in Lough Beg.

While acknowledging his previous good character and references, Judge Broderick said there were numerous aggravating factors involved in Duffin’s offence, including that it was of a sexual nature, involved a minor who was vulnerable young girl of 17 and that she had to come to court and give evidence.

In addition to the jail sentence, the judge imposed a five-year sexual offences prevention order, the terms of which include having no contact with anyone under 17 without approval from a risk manager, not to stay overnight at an address without approval, not to frequent facilities for children’s education or play or loiter at same without approval from a designated risk manager.

Duffin must also sign the sex offenders register for seven years.

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