Northern Ireland news

Former Crossmaglen GAA official Thomas McKenna admits sex assault charges

Former Crossmaglen GAA official Thomas McKenna admitted a litany of sex crimes against young boys dating back over three decades. Picture by Pacemaker

A former treasurer of Crossmaglen Rangers GAA club has pleaded guilty to a litany of sex crimes against young boys dating back over three decades.

Ex-postman Thomas McKenna (62), with a given address at Maghaberry Prison, was due to go on trial next week on the first of three sets of charges.

But at Belfast Crown Court today, defence counsel Kevin Magill asked for McKenna to be re-arraigned on three separate charge sheets which totalled 148 sexual offences and related to more than 20 victims.

McKenna, who was produced to the court from Maghaberry, pleaded guilty to offences which included multiple counts of indecent assaults, sexual assaults and gross indecency offences on young males on dates between 1989 and 2018.

A number of charges, including attempted rape were "left on the court books and not to be proceeded with without the leave of the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal''.

In June 2021, McKenna pleaded guilty to 18 counts of voyeurism, four indecent assaults and one count of taking an indecent image of a child. He was placed on the sex offenders register as a result of the guilty pleas.

Following his guilty pleas today, Belfast Recorder Judge Patricia Smyth said: "By your pleas of guilty you have admitted a catalogue of terrible offences against vulnerable young men. You will be punished severely for that.

"I am aware that some of those affected may be on the (video) link. To those affected may I say this: I praise your courage in coming forward to disclose these terrible crimes in very, very difficult circumstances. Each of you is completely vindicated in the complaints that you made against this man. I hope that that vindication will bring some peace of mind to those of you who continue to suffer grievously.

"And may I also say this: by coming forward and being determined to see this process through to its conclusion, you have brought about this situation where this man has admitted his guilt. Each of you have done a great public service in coming forward and I want to thank you for that,'' added Judge Smyth.

Prosecution counsel Charles MacCreanor KC said the Crown would not be proceeding with a number of matters which had recently come to light. He said the defendant had signed a document in relation to those matters which would now be "taken into consideration'' along with his guilty pleas.

Defence counsel Greg Berry KC asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared on McKenna by the Probation Service.

He added that he would also be seeking a medical report to be completed on McKenna which he said "related to a number of issues''.

Judge Smyth said she would the case on Monday, November 7 ahead of a sentencing date.

McKenna was remanded back into custody to await sentence.

Following today's proceedings, GAA President Larry McCarthy issued a statement apologising to McKenna's victims.

"On my own behalf and on behalf of the GAA I wish to apologise to his many victims in Crossmaglen Rangers, and to their families, for the hurt that has been caused by this abuse and to assure them that the GAA will continue to support them on an on-going basis," he said.

"Our current child safeguarding policies are seen by many to be comprehensive in content and robust in application and while much of the abuse perpetrated by Mr McKenna goes back almost 30 years, it is a reminder to us all, if ever needed, that we can never be over vigilant in how we oversee and apply child safeguarding in our clubs.

"I want to acknowledge and express my admiration to the victims for the courage they have shown in coming forward and cooperating with our GAA safeguarding personnel in reporting the initial allegations to the statutory authorities."

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