Jail for east Belfast brothers in ‘squalid’ child abuse case

The justice system
The justice system

Two east Belfast men have been jailed for what were described as “utterly squalid” sex offences.

Mark Cuthbert, 52, now of Victoria Crescent, Donaghadee, was handed a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence at Belfast Crown Court followed by a further year on probation following his release.

He pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent assault and six counts of gross indecency.

Gavin Cuthbert, 47 and with an address at John Street, Newtownards, was given a nine year sentence after he pleaded guilty to six charges of indecent assault and eight counts of gross indecency.

He was told that he would serve half of the sentence in custody and half on licence.

The prosecution told the court that the offences – all committed against children under 16 – came to light in January 2016 when the first victim contacted police to say that in the early 1990s Mark Cuthbert sexually assaulted him in bushes at Ormeau Park, Belfast.

A prosecutor said a second victim came forward to say that he lived in the same street as Mark Cuthbert in east Belfast and said he was abused by the brothers between the ages of 10 and 14.

He said Mark Cuthbert had “befriended” the victim’s parents and took him to Holywood Boys Football Club where he was a coach.

The court heard following football games Cuthbert took him back to his brother Gavin’s house where he sat naked on a sofa between them and was sexually abused.

During interviews with police, the victim said Mark Cuthbert warned him if he told anyone about the abuse he would “kill him and his family”.

The complainant told police that between 1995 and 1999 he had been abused up to 50 times by the brothers.

A third victim came forward in 2016 and told police that Gavin Cuthbert had sexually abused him on eight occasions on day trips to Mahee Island in Comber.

His abuser would stop off to “buy him ice cream and crisps and gave him money” on the way home.

On other occasions, Gavin Cuthbert would take the victim up to attic in his third floor house and make the young boy perform sex acts on him.

The court heard the victim stole £20 from his abuser and “Gavin Cuthbert had shouted at him and that was the end of the sexual behaviour and nothing happened further”.

During police interviews, Mark Cuthbert denied the allegations while Gavin Cuthbert had a “prepared statement read and denied the offences”.

When one of the victims told his mother what had happened to him, she went out into a nearby entry in east Belfast painted on an entry wall “Mark Cuthbert is a child abuser”.

Both brothers later had to flee the area, the court heard, following threats from loyalist paramilitaries.

Judge McFarland was told that in 2015 Gavin Cuthbert came to the attention of police after they received information that he was using a pseudonym, but no sexual offences were committed.

The court was told that he had turned his home into an “Aladdin’s Cave” with pool tables and slot machines.

Children were seen to be “hanging outside his house” and the father of one boy reported that Cuthbert gave his son “substantial quantities of money, ranging from £50 to £100”.

Defence lawyers for the brothers told the court that they were both remorseful and regretted what they had done.

They said the Cuthberts and been sexually and physically abused as children by their father.

Barrister Paul Bacon for Gavin Cuthbert said: “He full accepts culpability and responsibilty. He was forced out of his home and lived a solitary existence in Newtownards. He has no friends.

“These offences are utterly squalid and he accepts he has left his victims with life long difficulties. He has asked me to tell the victim who appear here today that he is truly sorry.”

Defence counsel Ken McMahon QC said Mark Cuthbert had pleaded guilty to the offences because he “could no longer live with the guilt on his conscience.”

Mr McMahon added: “He asks for forgiveness from the victim and his family.”

Belfast recorder judge David McFarland said it was evident from the victim impact reports on two complainant had all suffered to some extent from the sexual abuse.

He told the court that one victim told of having “recurring nightmares, waking up at night in cold sweats and was taking medication to distract him from his thoughts”.

The Belfast Recorder said he had received a “heartfelt letter” from a third victim which set out the problems he had suffered as a result of the abuse.

The judge said had the case gone to trial and the brothers had been convicted, he would have sentenced Gavin Cuthbert to 12 years in custody and Mark Cuthbert to 11 years in prison.

He told the court that he was taking their “late guilty pleas” into account which had been entered after a jury had been sworn in the case.

Judge McFarland said their pleas “were a public admission of their guilt” which had spared the victims having to give evidence in court.

The judge told Gavin Cuthbert that he believed he did pose a serious risk of harm in the future, and imposed a prison sentence of nine years, divided equally between custody and probation.

Mark Cuthbert was told he would serve seven-and-half years in custody followed by one year on probation.

The brothers were placed on the sex offenders’ register for life and were placed on the barred list from working with children.