The trial of a former missionary priest, Father Chris Conroy, for sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl collapsed at Wicklow Circuit Court yesterday after Judge Pat McCartan ruled that the credibility of the witness, now a young woman, may have been unfairly damaged.
He also ruled that the veracity of the witness's father may have been unfairly called into question.
Judge McCartan remanded Father Conroy on continuing bail and ordered that he face a retrial on two counts of sexual assault.
After hearing legal argument from Mr Paul Murray SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions, and Mr Richard N. Kean SC for Father Conroy, Judge McCartan said issues of truth and credibility had arisen during cross-examination which may have influenced the jury.
He said the young woman had been cross-examined "very vigorously" on a number of matters. These were central to her credibility and her truth and particularly related to the date of an alleged assault, which she maintained had happened after a shopping trip to Dún Laoghaire in Dublin when Father Conroy had bought her clothes.
She had initially maintained that she had attended a disco on the evening of the alleged assault.However, Mr Kean had produced Father Conroy's credit-card statement which he said proved the date in question was June 1st, 2000, while the attendance book at the disco, signed by the witness, was for June 2nd.
Judge McCartan said Mr Kean had asked: "If she was wrong about that could she be wrong about everything?" The judge told the jury that it had been "particularly well established that she was wrong".
However, Judge McCartan said it now transpired that this view of the witness's evidence might not have been correct, "and I emphasise that very strongly, may not have been correct".
The woman had been "put to the pin of her collar", and the jury had seen her discredited, but "it may have been a wrong premise". He added that the position of the witness "could not have been put right [by continuing the trial\] if it was ever wrong".
In discharging the jury, Judge McCartan also explained that the woman's father had been accused of not making a formal complaint about the alleged assault until after he lost a High Court dispute with Father Conroy over land.
It had been suggested to the woman's father that an affidavit he had sworn on July 17th claimed the priest had been the subject of a formal complaint. In fact, the formal complaint was not initiated at that date.
Judge McCartan told the jury it was later found that the reference to a formal complaint actually came from an affidavit filed on a later date, when the formal complaint process had in fact been initiated. The effect was to suggest that the woman's father had "sworn a falsehood when it might not have been and probably was not the case.
"It would be unfair to allow this trial to continue," he concluded.