Forest ranger avoids jail over child sex assaults

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A former volunteer with the Mourne Mountain Rescue team narrowly escaped being sent to jail on Monday after he admitted sexually assaulting two young boys over three decades ago.

One of the victims came forward due to the publicity surrounding the case against Jimmy Savile, while the second complainant admitted he had also been abused after he was initially questioned as a potential witness.

James McEvoy, 58, from Broomfield Close in Castlewellan, admitted three counts of indecent assault against the two boys, who were aged around 12 at the times of the offences. He was handed a 12-month sentence, which was suspended for two years.

Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard the offences were committed between 1984 and 1986, when McEvoy – who worked as a ranger for the Forestry Commission – was aged around 30. His defence barrister Eugene Grant QC spoke of a “catastrophic dent” in his client’s reputation.

Crown prosecutor Laura Ivers told the court that at the time of the offending, one of the victims “looked up to” McEvoy due to his position as a local mountain rescue volunteer.

The prosecutor said the victim only reported the matter to police in 2012, following the publicity connected to TV presenter Savile. She also revealed that when police spoke to the victim’s friend as a possible witness, he too said he had been abused by McEvoy.

When he was interviewed by police, McEvoy initially denied the charges but subsequently admitted three counts of indecent assault. The court heard he came before the court with a clear record.

Eugene Grant QC, representing McEvoy, spoke of his client’s many years of service as a volunteer with the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team, adding that in his 30 years service, McEvoy was “involved in many successful missions”. The barrister also spoke of McEvoy’s work record, which included being employed as a ranger in the Mourne Mountains, as well as working for the Mourne Heritage Trust.

Branding the criminality as “two isolated incidents” which occurred 30 years ago, Mr Grant also spoke of McEvoy’s clear record.

Passing sentence, Judge Geoffery Miller QC said McEvoy’s pleas spared his two victims the trauma of giving evidence. Judge Miller told the court it was apparant the incident has had a lasting effect on one of the victims, which has resulted in “a lack of self-confidence and self-worth in his life”.

Judge Miller also spoke of McEvoy’s position as a forestry official at the time, saying there was “undoubtedly” a breach of trust.

He also acknowledged McEvoy’s “worthwhile” employment history, and noted McEvoy “carried out very important voluntary work over a considerable number of years” with the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team.

Handing McEvoy a 12-month sentence, which was suspended for two years, Judge Miller made McEvoy the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order for five years. One of the terms of the order bans him from working with children or vulnerable adults.