A church usher who sexually assaulted a teenage girl on two separate occasions after hugging her at a Sunday service has been made the subject of a three-year probation order.
Paul Kyle, 54, used his position as part of the welcoming team at the New Life City Church in the Shankill area of the city to inappropriately touch the 15-year-old.
Belfast Crown Court heard Kyle sexually assaulted her in June 2017, and again in November. He has since been asked to stay away from the church.
Judge Patricia Smyth said she felt the public would be better protected by placing Kyle on probation for three years, and recommended that he attend a sexual offending programme to address his “distorted thinking”.
Prior to passing sentence, Judge Smyth heard that the teenager went to the police with her parents on November 22, 2017 to report that she had been sexually assaulted in June, and again on November 19.
The schoolgirl’s parents told police that concerns about Kyle’s behaviour were first raised with the church’s pastor in June last year, when they said Kyle had made “inappropriate physical contact” with the teenager.
The girl said that after giving her a hug, Kyle had touched her breast. The matter was reported to the pastor who in turn spoke to Kyle and warned him not to touch the schoolgirl again.
Five months later, the girl was again abused in the same way. She told her parents that she was hugged by Kyle, and as he was releasing himself from the hug, he felt her breast then put his hand between her legs.
The court heard all three assaults involved sexual touching over clothes.
It also emerged that following the second incident in November, hours later Kyle tried to contact the teenager via Facebook messenger. She didn’t pick up, but took a screenshot of the missed call.
When Kyle, from the Highfield area of Belfast, was interviewed by police, he said that while he knew the complainant, he was not friendly with her. He also admitted hugging her at the church service, and said it was “just a hug and nothing more”.
Whilst Kyle continued to deny the offences initially, he later pleaded guilty to the charges, which Ms McKay said was an indication he “now accepts what she said about each of these incidents”.
The prosecutor said Kyle’s actions impacted on the girl’s education, adding that while the offences themselves were at the “lower end of the scale”, they still had a negative affect on her.
Defence barrister Ciaran Harvey said Kyle accepts what he did and “fully apologises and recognises the hurt and pain this has caused her”.
Mr Harvey said that since the incidents – which he said occurred when Kyle was experiencing “difficulties in his life” – his client has turned to alcohol and is now consuming a litre of spirits every day.
The defence barrister also revealed Kyle has a very low IQ, suffers from stress, and has experienced “anxiety about the prospect of a prison sentence”.
Sparing Kyle jail, Judge Smyth noted his low IQ – which places him in the bottom 2% of the population – that she said may explain “to some degree” his offending.
In addition to the three-year probation order, Kyle was also placed on the sex offenders register for five years.