THE trial of a priest charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl dramatically collapsed yesterday after the judge ruled the jury may have been misled on certain key points of evidence.
Judge Pat McCartan dismissed the jury hearing the case against Fr Chris Conroy in Wicklow Circuit Court and ordered that the trial begin again at the next available date.
Fr Conroy (72), a Carmelite and a retired Peruvian missionary, is charged with two counts of sexual assault contrary to section 2 of the Criminal Law Rape Amendment Act 1990. The assaults are alleged to have taken place in the Glen O'The Downs and at his Wicklow home between May and September, 2000.
But yesterday afternoon, on the second day of the trial, the judge recalled the jury from their room and told them he felt he could not proceed with the current panel of two women and 10 men because of the way the evidence had been presented to them.
He said the young woman at the centre of the case had been "vigorously questioned" on a number of issues at the heart of her credibility as a witness.
In particular, she was quizzed in relation to the date of the first alleged assault when she and the priest had gone on a shopping trip and whether she had also attended a disco that evening.
The judge said it had been suggested "if she was wrong about that, could she be wrong about everything". It had been very well established that she was, in fact, wrong, he said.
"It now emerges that line of questioning may not have been correct and I emphasise that very strongly," the judge explained.
The position of the young woman, now aged 18, had been "undermined and damaged" and that had may have occurred "on a wrong premise," he said.
The second problem arose in relation to the cross examination of her father and details he was said to have sworn in an affidavit to the High Court, dated July 17, 2002.
The judge said that "what was being put to him was that he had sworn a falsehood." However, it emerged the statement had not been made until July 23 when "it might not have been and probably was not wrong".
In the young woman's case, her position "could not have been put right, if it was ever wrong."
- Grainne Cunningham