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Former Nun and Male Helper Jailed for Raping Girl

Irish Times, July 24, 1999

"This was a gang rape," the judge said when a former nun, Nora Wall, was jailed for life for raping a 10-year-old girl at St Michael's Child Care Centre in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, more than a decade ago.

Her co-accused, Paul McCabe, was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for the same offence, the rape of Ms Regina Walsh, now 21, at the childcare centre where the nun worked as administrator.

Leave to appeal was refused by Mr Justice Carney despite defence submissions alleging non-disclosure of evidence. However, lawyers for Wall and McCabe are to apply next week to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Mr Justice Carney said he had no jurisdiction other than to give effect to the jury's verdict. Sentencing Wall and McCabe, he said that he did not find anything in favour of either of them.

"This was a gang rape," he said. "The leader of the gang was the only person in the world who was charged with the protection of Regina Walsh. I don't think I need to say more than that."

He sentenced Wall to life imprisonment and McCabe to 12 years. On an indecent assault charge, he sentenced Wall to five years' imprisonment, concurrent with the life sentence.

He said that in his view he had no jurisdiction to grant a defence application for a stay of proceedings. The defence had "access into perpetuity" to the appeal court in relation to newly-discovered facts.

He also declined to grant a defence request for the sentence to be dated from the end of next week. Mr Hugh Harnett SC, for Ms Wall, made the request in light of next week's sitting of the Court of Criminal Appeal, so that his client "might not suffer imprisonment, unduly or unfairly."

The hearing was not held in camera. Mr Justice Carney said that Ms Walsh and a key prosecution witness, Ms Patricia Phelan, had forfeited their anonymity through newspaper interviews published since the trial.

The jail sentences and refusal of leave to appeal followed lengthy submissions by Wall's defence counsel that there had been a failure by the prosecution to disclose potentially significant evidence, and that even if this was not deliberate, new evidence which had come to light was sufficient ground for appeal.

Mr Hugh Hartnett SC, defending, said there may have been a failure on the prosecution side that led to "a miscarriage of justice in this case". He said the defence had "stumbled" on the potential evidence because of an interview by a journalist, Barry O'Kelly, with the victim and Ms Phelan.

The interview was published in the Star on June 17th last, after a jury convicted Wall and McCabe of the rape on June 10th.

The jury had found the former Sister Dominic, Nora Wall (51), with an address at Clonliffe Avenue, Drumcondra, and Paul "Pablo" McCabe (50), of Rock Road, Booterstown, guilty of the rape of Regina Walsh, a native of Waterford, on a date unknown in 1987 or 1988.

Wall, also a native of Co Waterford and a onetime member of the Sisters of Mercy, was also found guilty by the jury of indecently assaulting the girl at the home. The jury reached its verdicts by a 10-2 majority after almost five hours of deliberations.

Both the accused were acquitted of a second charge of raping the girl on a date in January 1990. They denied all the charges during the six-day trial.

Yesterday Mr Hartnett said that in the course of the newspaper interview of June 17th, Ms Walsh alleged that she had been raped by another man in Leicester Square, London.

Also subsequent to the trial, one of Wall's brothers was approached by another man who said he had been the victim of a false allegation of sexual assault brought by the corroborative witness, Ms Phelan.

Mr Hartnett said that that matter had been dealt with in the High Court, and the judge dealing with it had remarked that although the witnesses' credibility was not an issue in the proceedings, he was "less than impressed by their evidence".

Mr Hartnett said it seemed extraordinary that gardai in Kilkenny and Waterford did not know of linked cases which took place at around the same time in neighbouring counties.

He said the victim impact report, "even more worryingly," referred to counselling Ms Walsh had received and to periods she had spent in St Declan's Mental Hospital in Waterford in 1996.

Either Ms Walsh was not telling the truth about these matters or there had been "a very definite failure" of disclosure by the prosecution, he said.

The court also heard that Ms Phelan had made separate allegations of sexual assault against her father, her brother and her uncle and that in the course of the victim impact report Ms Walsh alleged that a former boyfriend had beaten and abused her when she was in England.

The defence counsel sought an adjournment so that further inquiries could be made in correspondence with the State, which he criticised for its delay in responding to queries.

It might well be that the fresh information would turn out to be a red herring, Mr Hartnett said, but it indicated an abuse of process. At worst there had been "a substantial potential miscarriage of justice," he said, and at best "an innocent failure" on the part of the prosecution.

On behalf of the DPP, Mr Denis Vaughan Buckley SC said he was strenuously opposed to the application and did not accept that there had not been full disclosure in the case.

The DPP was not aware of any allegation regarding a rape in England, Mr Buckley said, and he was instructed that the prosecuting gardai were never aware of any judicial proceedings regarding Patricia Phelan.

Mr Buckley said that Ms Walsh did not wish to address the court. Mr Justice Carney said she had, however, submitted a poem, Stolen Childhood, which he asked Supt Michael Blake to read to the court.

The judge also heard that Paul McCabe had 35 previous convictions in Ireland and England in the period from 1967 to 1997, including convictions for assault, criminal damage, indecent assault, indecent exposure, larceny, malicious damage and assault on gardai.

He had been placed in care in Artane Boys' Industrial School until the age of 16, and had spent six months in the Army. He had a history of alcohol and substance abuse and had spent periods receiving treatment at St Brendan's Hospital, Grangegorman.

Mr Patrick Marrinan, for McCabe, said he did not wish to show disrespect to the jury's findings and the only matter he would raise in mitigation was that his client also suffered from schizophrenia and epilepsy, and was on medication for Parkinson's Disease.

Nora Wall had no previous convictions. On her behalf Mr Hartnett said he also did not wish to show disrespect to the jury's findings, so he would only say that Wall was someone who had spent all her life caring for the elderly and the young.