Compensation battle victory for woman abused by SF councillor stepmother

Mary Meehan suffered the abuse when she was aged between nine and 11
Mary Meehan suffered the abuse when she was aged between nine and 11

A woman subjected to child cruelty by her former Sinn Fein councillor stepmother has won her legal battle over being refused compensation.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the bar on Mary Meehan and other abuse victims who lived in the same house as the perpetrators was not justified in law.

Lord Justice Treacy said: “We can think of no reasonable foundation for a decision to maintain in being an arbitrary exclusion of this proven victim of criminal injuries from a compensation scheme which is specifically designed to compensate such victims.”

The decision could pave the way for pay-outs to be made to those abused by assailants while living under the same roof as members of the same family.

Ms Meehan, 47, who waived her right to anonymity, suffered physical abuse when she was aged between nine and 11.

In 2013 her stepmother and former guardian, Briege Meehan, 71, admitted child cruelty and assault charges, receiving a suspended prison sentence.

The offences occurred between July 1979 and October 1980.

At the time Briege Meehan was the girlfriend of Martin Meehan, a senior north Belfast republican either on the run or remanded in custody on IRA-related charges.

The abuse began after Mary Meehan’s mother died and the assailant moved into the family home to live with her father in the Ardoyne area, a previous court heard.

Initial physical assaults involved hair pulling, tripping up the applicant and throwing her clothes on the floor.

It was claimed that after her father was imprisoned the abuse worsened until she was taken into care.

Briege Meehan, a former Sinn Fein councillor in Newtownabbey with an address at Elmfield Street in Belfast, was suspended by the party after the abuse allegations surfaced in 2009.

Under legislation dating back to the 1970s, pay-outs were not made in cases where the abuser and perpetrator lived in the same household.

Although the law has since been amended, the bar remains in place for historic cases.

Ms Meehan’s legal team argued that the policy breaches their client’s human rights.

They claimed it was unfair to deny her when it has already been established beyond reasonable doubt that she was the victim of physical abuse.

It was contended that if she had been abused by her next door neighbour she would be entitled to compensation.

Backing her case, Lord Justice Treacy pointed out that she is being excluded from access to compensation forever over criminal injuries she says were inflicted on her.