Northern Ireland

Former deputy mayor of Derry convicted of historic sex abuse against young girl

James McKeever was a former deputy mayor of Derry
James McKeever was a former deputy mayor of Derry James McKeever was a former deputy mayor of Derry

A FORMER deputy mayor of Derry was remanded into custody today after he was convicted by a jury of historic sex abuse against a young girl.

Despite his denials of innocence, James McKeever - who was suspended from the SDLP when the sexual allegations came to light - was found guilty of eight offences.

The 63-year old, from Tamneyreagh Park in Eglinton, stood trial at Belfast Crown Court on seven counts of indecently assaulting a young girl, and two counts of gross indecency with or towards a child.

The offences spanned over a period from August 1981 to December 1988 when she was aged between seven and 14.

The former councillor, who together with his wife fostered around 50 children, denied all the charges.

Following a week-long trial the jury returned unanimous 'guilty' verdicts on six of the indecent assault charges and found him 'not guilty' of a seventh.

McKeever was also convicted on two charges of gross indecency - one unanimously and the other by a majority of ten-to-two.

The complainant, who is now 47, contacted the PSNI in 2018 and told them she had been abused as a child by McKeever.

She told police that the abuse, which mainly involved sexual touching, occurred at several houses in and around Derry in the 1980s.

The woman also recalled an incident of abuse at Desmond's Factory where McKeever used to rent an office, and another of McKeever exposing himself to her whilst in a car when she was a child.

In her evidence, the woman said she had "bottled up" the abuse she suffered as a child for years.

She also said that at the time, due in part to McKeever's standing in the community and his charity work, she felt unable to tell an adult what was happening.

In 2018 she confessed to her mother about the childhood abuse, and a short time later she contacted the PSNI.

McKeever was arrested and interviewed about the allegations made by the woman.

He maintained this stance throughout the trial, with his defence informing the jury that he came before the court with no criminal convictions and with a record of fostering scores of children.

McKeever's barrister spoke of his client's "hitherto good character" and asked for him to be granted bail ahead of sentencing.

This request was rejected by Judge Donna McColgan, QC, who said that as McKeever had been convicted by a jury of sexual offences against a child "he will be remanded in custody until sentencing."

McKeever was told he will be sentenced in September.