The Wicklow priest charged with the sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl has seen his case dramatically collapse at the Circuit Court.
Fr. Chris Conroy (72), of 10 Rocky Road, Wicklow, was facing two counts of allegedly sexually assaulting the girl in June and July of 2000. On the first day of the trial, the court heard from the girl that the first incident occurred on the day that she went on a shopping trip with the elderly cleric before later attending a disco.
However, the second day saw Counsel for the Defence, Mr. Richard N. Keane SC, point out that the shopping trip and the disco had occurred on two successive days, rather than the same day. He submitted that if the girl was wrong about that, 'she could be wrong about everything'.
Judge Pat McCartan agreed that the prosecution case was flawed as a result of the discrepancy. As the matter could not be corrected since the girl's evidence was complete, he ruled it would be incorrect to proceed with the trial.
He remanded the priest on continuing bail to appear before the next sitting of the court, when a date for a re-trial is to be fixed.
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Priest on sex charges sees his case collapse
It will be some three months before a date is set for a new trial in the case of a Wicklow priest charged with twice sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl four years ago.
Fr. Chris Conroy (72), of 10 Rocky Road, Wicklow, who is pleading not guilty to the charges, saw the case against him collapse at the Circuit Court last Thursday, when Judge Pat McCartan ruled it would be unfair to the alleged victim to proceed with the trial.
The judge made the ruling on the basis that the line of questioning employed by defence counsel, Mr Richard N. Keane SC, when cross-examining the victim 'may not have been correct'.
The cross-examination came after it was alleged in the girl's own direct evidence that Fr Conroy had sexually assaulted her on two occasions in June and July, 2000. The first alleged offence was said to have happened as she and the priest were returning to Wicklow from a shopping trip to Dun Laoghaire, where he had bought her clothes such as a 'short shorts', a halter top, a bikini top, and a pair of knee-high boots.
The girl was unsure of the precise date, but conceded that it occurred on June 1, following the production of Fr. Conroy's Visa card records by the defence counsel.
Mr Keane then pointed out that the girl had said she attended a disco that same night, but records showed that the disco actually took place on June 2. It was suggested that 'if she was wrong about that, could she be wrong about everything?'
The jury was sent out of the courtroom to allow legal argument take place in their absence, and when they were recalled, the Judge informed them he was not allowing the case to proceed any further.
He said the alleged victim had been 'vigorously questioned' on a number of issues at the heart of her credibility as a witness. In particuarl, she had been quizzed in relation to the date of the first alleged assault, and it had been suggested that if she was wrong about that, she could be wrong about everything. It had in fact been 'very well' established that she was in fact wrong, he said.
The Judge then stated that the line of cross-examination by defence counsel in relation to the date may not have been correct, and 'therefore leaves the testimony of the victim fundamentally undermined and damaged'. As the situation only arose after the victim had finished her testimony, Justice McCartan said the position could not be put right.
'That in itself has led me to believe it would be unfair to proceed with the trial,' he ruled.
A second problem had also arisen in cross-examination of the alleged victim's father, who had himself given prosecution evidence that morning.
Mr Keane put it to the man that he had signed an affidavit in July 2002 stating that the relevant authorities had been contacted in relation to the alleged sexual assaults, a number of days before they actually had.
However, it later emerged that the victim's father had signed two affidavits that month, and the sexual assault allegations against Fr Conroy were mentioned only in the second one, which was sworn after the authorities had been contacted.
While Judge McCartan pointed out that while this discrepancy could be put right for the court, as the alleged victim's father was still giving his evidence, the combination of it and the matter of the exact date of the first alleged offence meant it would not be right to proceed any further with the case.
He discharged the jury, and remanded the defendant on continuing bail to the next sitting of the Circuit Court, scheduled for late October and early November, when a date for a new trial is to be fixed.
Earlier that day, the alleged victim's father and mother, as well as two of her friends, had also given prosecution evidence for the State.
Both of the girl's parents joined their daughter in vehemently denying an accusation from the defence that the allegations against Fr Conroy stemmed from the outcome of a seperate and unconnected dispute between their family and the priest.
The girl's two friends both recounted to the court their memories of what the girl had told them about the alleged offences around the time they were said to have occurred.