Former Co Down band leader jailed for sexually assaulting young girls

Liam Rafferty was child protection officer with St Miguel Accordion Band in Downpatrick
Liam Rafferty was child protection officer with St Miguel Accordion Band in Downpatrick
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The former leader and child protection officer of an award-winning accordion band wept in court today as he was jailed for 15 months for sexually abusing two young girls.

Jailing 75-year-old Liam Patrick Rafferty at Newtownards Crown Court, Judge Geoffrey Millar QC told him there were numerous aggravating features to his offending including the fact of “deliberate isolation” and grooming of the victims “to perpetrate the repeated offending.”

Ordering Rafferty to spend a further 15 months under supervised licence conditions when he is freed, the judge also barred him from working with children and imposed a five year Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

Judge Millar told Rafferty, who continually wept in the dock throughout the 40-minute hearing, that as the leader of the St Miguel Accordion Band in Downpatrick, he had been held in “high regard” in his community and with a high degree of trust so “the breach of the trust reposed in him was all the greater.”

At the end of his two-week trial last June Rafferty, from Mary Street in Downpatrick, was convicted by the jury of seven counts of sexual activity with a girl aged 13-16 and two counts of sexual assault against two young victims on dates between 21 July 2012 and 11 January 2016.

Reminding the court today of the evidence heard at the trial, prosecuting counsel Laura Ievers described how Rafferty had been giving private music lessons to the victims in his home when there were repeated incidents of kissing and inappropriate touching.

Taking each victim in turn, Mrs Ievers recounted how Rafferty was convicted on three counts of sexual activity with a child in relation to the first victim who was aged between 13 and 14 when she was abused.

Count one, said the lawyer, related to the first incident in May 2016 when Rafferty kissed the teenager on the mouth while count two was a specimen charge to reflect that same act happening “six or seven times.”

Mrs Ievers said the third count was also a specimen charge to reflect Rafferty repeatedly “kissing her, or trying to kiss her on the lips.”

There was also an element of grooming by Rafferty in that he had sent the girl numerous messages on social media where he used “terms on affection” and offered her a gift of a printer.

The second victim, she told the court, was aged between 14 and 16 when Rafferty abused her by kissing her on the lips and “rubbing her leg” when she was having music lessons.

“He told her that he loved her and offered to take her to Dublin,” said Mrs Ievers, adding that at one stage, Rafferty’s wife saw her husband touching the girl’s leg and confronted him about it.

Arrested and interviewed in 2016, Rafferty denied any wrongdoing and gave evidence on his own behalf before the jury maintaining his innocence and the court heard today that while he “accepts the jury’s verdicts,” he still claims to be innocent.

Turning to aggravating features, Mrs Ievers said that having “put himself in the role of teacher and mentor and held himself out as a guardian,” including his role as child protection officer in the band he led, it was a “breach of trust case.”

In addition, she told the court, was the fact there were two victims where there was a large age disparity and “what we would say was deliberate isolating to perpetuate the offences” and when his behaviour was revealed, “efforts to prevent them from reporting the abuse, capitalising on their trusting relationship.”

While Rafferty had a clear record and has “significant health issues,” there was however “an absence of remorse” on his part, submitted Mrs Ievers.

Defence counsel Chris Holmes said that as a result of those health problems, “he is going to find a custodial sentence more difficult than perhaps an average defendant and that as the main carer for his “extremely ill” wife, “incarceration of her husband is going to significantly effect her.”

He said from the evidence at the trial, “it became clear to the court” that over the years, Rafferty had been in “close personal contact with tens of thousands, certainly thousands, of young people and we have ended up in this case with two victims.”

“Throughout the years he was working in the community, doing a huge amount of good and he has destroyed that completely,” conceded Mr Holmes, adding that Rafferty had “utterly destroyed an impeccable reputation.”

Jailing Rafferty and ordering him to sign the police sex offenders register for 10 years, Judge Millar said that the loss of reputation in a small town such as Downpatrick “will have almost as big an impact on him as the sentences.”

He said while none of the charges relate to “penetrative acts, nonetheless the defendants behaviour is indicative of grooming by him of young files in his care and charge and who were at the time, by virtue of their circumstances, vulnerable.”

The judge he was satisfied from the various reports that the defendant is not a dangerous offender but that given the nature of the offences “there can be no doubt that the custody threshold is passed and that the sentence must be immediate custody.”