Alarm as towpath sex attacker is spared jail
Concern has been expressed at the sentence handed down to a Belfast man who subjected a woman to a terrifying sexual assault as she walked along the Lagan towpath.
Trevor Mulholland (37) of Ardenlee Gardens, who pleaded guilty to a charge of sexually touching the woman without her consent, was given three years on probation.
This was a frightening crime which took place in June 2016 while the woman took a walk along the towpath.
This is a popular route enjoyed by walkers, runners and families and the victim in this case would have been taken completely unawares on what should have been a pleasant evening stroll.
Belfast Crown Court heard that Mulholland followed the woman and tapped her on the shoulder. Unnerved by this, she tried to call someone on her mobile but he continued to follow her and grabbed her by the arm.
She fell to the ground and dropped her phone, which Mulholland stood on as she tried to retrieve it.
The victim screamed and kicked out at her assailant who sexually assaulted her as she lay on the ground, leaving her with cuts and bruises.
The court was told that this appalling incident has had a profound psychological impact on the woman who felt so unsafe in Northern Ireland that she has now left to live in England.
What is particularly worrying about this case is that this is not the first time Mulholland has been convicted for an offence of a similar nature.
The fact that he told a probation officer that he 'can't guarantee that he would not be tempted to do something of this nature again', is also far from reassuring.
The Probation Service assessed him as being at high risk of re-offending but not posing a danger to the public, which may seem slightly contradictory.
It has to be acknowledged that the courts have to take a number of factors into account in their determinations and judges must observe sentencing guidelines.
However, given the circumstances of this case, there will be considerable disquiet at the outcome.