Northern Ireland

Lord chief justice clarifies Donagh judgement

James McDermott and Owen-Roe McDermott
Image caption The McDermott brothers were deemed mentally unfit to stand trial

The office of the most senior judge in NI has written to the justice minister to clarify the judgement made in the Donagh child sex abuse scandal.

There has been controversy over how two brothers who abused children for 30 years were allowed to return home.

The lord chief justice said the trial judge ruled that James and Owen Roe McDermott should live at home, after a recommendation by health professionals.

The letter also said they had lived at home since their arrest in July 2008.

It is a highly unusual move for the lord chief justice to clarify a judge's ruling.

The letter reveals that the judge who heard the case asked professionals from the Western Health Trust for their advice on where best to place the brothers before he passed judgement.

The letter explains that the judge took evidence specifically on the point that the men would stay at their house in the County Fermanagh village of Donagh.

It quotes an exchange between the judge and a Dr C - a Western Health Trust consultant psychiatrist - at the hearing.

"You can't really envisage another residence?" the judge asked. The witness replied "no your honour".

The letter also points out that the brothers had been living at their home since their arrest in July 2008 and were bailed to that address.

It said the four options available to the judge were:

  • a hospital order
  • a supervision and treatment order
  • a guardianship order
  • discharge

The judge questioned Dr C on this and he told the court that the Trust had considered the four options and "after much deliberation that (an STO) was seen as the most suitable means to protect society and the possibility of re-offending against minors".

Dr C said a management plan had been prepared to enable the defendants to be supervised in the community with arrangements made for treatment.

Responding to news of the letter, Elaine Way the chief executive of the Western Health Trust, said while health professionals had given evidence, the decision to impose the STO was the judge's.

"It is for the court to determine, not for the health trust to determine, the residence of the brothers," she said.

"The victims were in the court and heard the evidence - there is nothing new in what is said here."

'Shocking'

The health committee received notification of the lord chief justice's letter from the justice committee on Thursday afternoon.

The vice-chair of the committee Michelle O'Neill described the revelation as "appalling and shocking".

The committee is now calling for an urgent joint meeting with the justice committee.

BBC NI health correspondent Marie Louise Connolly said the latest development would add to the controversy.

"These further revelations that the judge had based his decision almost entirely on evidence provided by western trust professionals may been seen by some as a further blow to the many victims and their families," she said.

Between them, four McDermott brothers, from Moorlough Road in Donagh, faced 60 charges of abuse.

John McDermott was jailed for nine years in June for his role in the abuse, which was described as frequent, regular and persistent.

Peter Paul McDermott took his own life during his trial on abuse charges involving two young boys.

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