DPP Lost File On Bogus Sexual Assault Claim Case
Sunday Business Post, 03 May 2009 by John Burke and Ian Kehoe
The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) lost the file that exonerated a man wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting a ten-year-old girl. The error led to a delay of more than a year in overturning a conviction for sexual and physical assault against Michael Feichín Hannon.
Hannon was given a suspended prison sentence in 1999 as a result of claims by his neighbour, Una Hardester, that he assaulted her. The conviction was quashed last February when Hardester admitted she made up the allegations, but the conviction was declared a miscarriage of justice only last week.
The file that was lost by the office of the DPP and led to the delay in clearing Hannon’s name has never been found. It contains three statements by Hardester in which she acknowledged that she had lied and invented the claims.
The statement was made by Hardester in December 2006. However, it took until March 2008 for the DPP to give Hannon’s legal team a new file containing the statement s, according to documents obtained by The Sunday Business Post.
In a letter to Hannon’s legal team, dated March 20, 2008, the DPP’s director of casework said he regretted the delay in furnishing the documents. He said it had been ‘‘caused in particular by the mislaying of our file in this matter (it has not yet been recovered) and by the time taken to assemble a duplicate file of benefit’’.
The admission came after repeated requests for Hardester’s statements by Hannon’s solicitor, Michael Finucane. Hannon only learned of the statements by chance, and was never formally informed by the authorities that Hardester had changed her evidence.
Hardester had accused Hannon of sexually assaulting her near the families’ homes at Aughrismore, Cleggan, Co Galway, in 1997. Hannon, originally from Clifden, received the suspended four-year prison sentence at Galway Circuit Court two years later.
The Sunday Business Post has also obtained Hardester’s statement to the gardaí at the time of the conviction, and the transcript of the gardaí’s interview with Hannon. During questioning, Hannon was told by gardaí that he was ‘‘lying’’ and was ‘‘like a dog, trying to get loose’’.
He consistently maintained he had never spoken to the girl and was being targeted because of a land dispute between his family and the Hardester family.
Hardester, who is now 21 and lives in the US, admitted the false allegations in 2006 and backed up all Hannon’s original statements.
The Court of Criminal Appeal last week said Hannon was entitled to have his good name restored, and described the case as ‘‘alarming and disturbing’’.
Hannon, now 34, said he and his family had lived with the stigma of the conviction for ten years.
It has also emerged that the government is now examining the law in relation to circumstances when witnesses alter their evidence.
The government is seeking advice from the Attorney General as to whether there is any legal obligation forcing the authorities to inform an individual that evidence leading to their conviction has been altered.