Northern Ireland

Priest sentencing adjourned over mental health concerns

The sentencing of a paedophile priest was adjourned after a psychiatrist raised concerns over his mental health.

Wheelchair bound 71-year-old Michael Joseph Steele was due to be sentenced by Belfast Crown Court after he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a boy and a girl between 30 and 40 years ago last month.

Steele admitted five counts of indecent assault and two of gross indecency committed against the boy between January 1967 and January 1971.

He admitted three counts of indecently assaulting the girl on dates between August 1979 and July 1983.

'Cognitive difficulties'

Solicitor advocate Dennis Maloney told the court that in a report compiled by consultant psychiatrist Dr Maria O'Kane, she described uncovered "cognitive difficulties in his mental health" and had made an assessment that "Father Steele would not be a reliable person in court".

"I do not believe that he would be fit to stand trial or plead and that he would not be cognisant of the charges," the solicitor quoted from the report.

It was on that basis, said Mr Maloney that he was asked the court to adjourn passing sentence so that an application could be mounted and potentially, Steele's guilty pleas vacated.

He assured both the judge and prosecuting lawyer that both Father Steele and the Holy Ghost order to which he belonged, would facilitate any further examinations to be conducted by a psychiatrist on behalf of the Crown.

'Emotionally damaged'

The prosecution said the report from Dr O'Kane had come "very late in the day" given that previously, Steele had taken advice from his legal team, had been asked if he understood the charges and pleaded guilty to them.

"The injured parties in this case have been in court on every occasion that the case has been mentioned. They're here today (fri) and have an expectation that these matters would be dealt with," said the lawyer adding that they were already "emotionally damaged as you can tell from the victim impact reports".

Judge Patrick Lynch adjourned the case until the start of July and released Steele on bail in the meantime.