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A Case of Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Sunday Independent, February 08 2004, by Emma Blain

[Extract re Michael Fitzpatrick]
IF it hadn't been for the support of the people in his community, Michael Fitzpatrick says he imagines he would have committed suicide. He reached such a desperate point because of the allegations made against him of the rape and indecent assault of two girls, which did not reach court after a judicial review. In 1997 the father of four was first approached by gardai about the allegations. The half-hour he subsequently spent in the Garda station making a statement was just the beginning. It took a year for the State to decide to go ahead with a case. Throughout that time he was sustained by the support from those in his area who refused to believe the claims made by the girls; he had "good neighbours" who reassured him and his wife. But when he got to the Four Courts for the judicial review the enormity of the situation struck him: "Them big pillars . . . [it was a] different kettle of fish." He won the judicial review and no longer had a case to answer.

"I would imagine a person who's guilty doesn't suffer as much as an innocent man. If you are guilty then fair enough, do something, make amends, have remorse. If you are innocent then you are asking yourself, 'Why me?'."

He has found the whole ordeal impossible to come to terms with and says that all his family have suffered.
"To the present day I haven't taken one of my grandchildren in my arms."

One of the girls responsible for the allegation against him was later involved in the Nora Wall case. She was a witness against the former nun and her earlier involvement against Mr Fitzpatrick was a vital factor in Nora's Wall's vindication.

Today, despite what they have put him through, Mr Fitzpatrick is able to look kindly on his accusers. "They had had hard lives and a difficult family situation."