Former St Matthew’s priest Fr Peter Donnelly found not guilty of abuse

Laganside Court Building in Belfast
Laganside Court Building in Belfast

A former curate at St Matthew’s Catholic Church in Belfast accused of sex abuse has walked free from court after he was found not guilty by a jury on the direction of the trial judge.

The jury was sworn in at Belfast Crown Court to try Father Peter Donnelly, from Drumaroad Hill, Castlewellan for allegedly sexually abusing a girl in the parochial house of the church in east Belfast over a five year period.

Donnelly (71) was charged with six counts of indecently assaulting the girl and a further count of gross indecency with the girl.

He denied all the charges which were alleged to have taken place between 1983 and 1988.

Two previous juries in the case were unable to reach a verdict on the charges against Fr Donnelly.

After the third jury was sworn in, prosecuting barrister Kate McKay told Judge Gordon Kerr QC: “The Crown is not offering any evidence in this case.’’

Judge Kerr QC said on Wednesday that, as a result of prosecution decision, he was directing the jury of nine men and three women to acquit Fr Donnelly of all the charges.

The trial judge said: “You are now free to go Fr Donnelly.’’

Outside the Laganside court complex, his defence solicitor Denis Maloney said: “Due process has taken place in which Fr Donnelly has co-operated fully and he has now been found not guilty.’’

During the previous two trials, his alleged victim claimed she was indecently assaulted a number of times when she was aged between ten and into her early teens.

She claimed the abuse occurred in the parochial house at St Matthew’s - allegations Fr Donnelly repeatedly denied.

He told his trial last week of the first time he heard of the allegations.

“The Bishop called me and told this allegation has arisen. He advised me that I should voluntary stand down from the minsitry and I thought, for the good of the church, that I should stand down from the ministry while this investigation was ongoing,’’ Fr Donnelly told the jury at Belfast Crown Court.

When the priest was asked to comment on the allegations against him - including one incident which she claimed took place in his bedroom - Fr Donnelly responded by saying: “I totally deny that.’’