Northern Ireland news

Court's absolute discharge for paedophile priest a `let down' for victims

Retired priest Fr John Murray at Belfast Crown Court in 2019. Picture by Alan Lewis

SURVIVORS of clerical abuse say they have been "let down again" after a priest unanimously found responsible by a jury for sexually assaulting two girls was granted an `absolute discharge' by a court.

The women had spent 40 years seeking justice against Fr John Joseph Murray for the abuse carried out during the 1970s and 1980s in the Short Strand area of east Belfast.

One was 11 years old when the priest asked for her to be excused from class in St Matthew's PS to assist him with `church-related matters'.

However, she was then assaulted in his car and at the parochial house.

The priest was formally relieved of his parish duties at Rasharkin, Co Antrim in 2016 and began to split his time between Newcastle, Co Down and a golf resort in the Canary Islands where he was tracked down by a Sunday newspaper.

In September 2019 he finally appeared in the dock at Belfast Magistrates Court in a wheelchair, where he pleaded not guilty to two charges of indecent assault on two females between December 31 1976 and January 1 1983 in St Matthew's parochial house.

However, a series of delays saw one jury discharged and the trial finally restart at Dungannon Crown Court, which was told the priest was not fit to be interviewed because he is suffering Alzheimer's disease.

Prosecutors agreed to proceed with a `trial of the facts', with filmed police interviews shown to the jury of his victims - both now in their fifties - recounting their ordeal.

Jurors returned in under an hour with the unanimous verdict in both cases that: "Having been found unfit to be tried, found that he did the act, indecent assault a female, Section 52 of the Offences against the Person's Act 1861."

However, while Fr Murray's name was entered in the Register of Sex Offenders, and the judge reviewed further supervision arrangements for the retired priest, he was handed an absolute discharge by the court.

Margaret McGuckin from the group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse said that is "not justice" for his victims, one of whom she has supported over the years.

"Why didn't they throw the book at him after what he did? Where is the justice?"

Bishop Noel Treanor has said the Catholic church's own investigation under its safeguarding procedures and internal process will now resume, stressing the diocese's "unequivocal commitment to the safeguarding of children, young people and adults at risk".

On behalf of Down and Connor diocese, he "wholeheartedly apologise(d)" to the victims and their families, describing Fr Murray's actions as "a complete betrayal of trust".

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