A 40-year-old father of two has been acquitted of raping a teenager in Falls Park.
Gerard Scannell faced four offences arising from an alleged sex attack against a 16-year-old male, who claimed he was dragged into bushes and raped in the west Belfast park in July 2016.
However, after it emerged that the Crown would not be proceeding with the case, Mr Scannell was found ‘not guilty by direction of the court’.
Revealing his life has been “destroyed” since the allegations were made, Mr Scannell said he now wants to return to his community, with the help and support of his family.
Mr Scannell, who is originally from Ballymurphy Road but who was living at an undisclosed bail address in another area of Belfast, was charged with three counts of rape, and of sexually assaulting the teenager.
The painter and decorator spent around 100 days on remand as well as being unable to return to west Belfast in the wake of the allegations, and consistently denied the charges against him.
A trial which was opened at Belfast Crown Court last month had to be aborted after the alleged injured party refused to continue with his evidence. During his cross-examination, the west Belfast teen got up mid-question and said “I’m going home”.
A retrial was due to commence on Wednesday, but after a jury was sworn in, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC was told that the Crown would not be offering any evidence in the case.
As a result, Mr Scannell was acquitted on all four charges.
After being told the Crown was offering no further evidence, Judge Miller addressed the jury, saying: “A trial was commenced some weeks ago and had to be adjourned midway through evidence being given.
“As a result of matters which arose at that time, the prosecution reviewed the nature and quality of the evidence in the case, and reached a determination that the test for prosecution is no longer met.”
As he stood in the dock, a clearly emotional Mr Scannell was told by Judge Miller “you are free to go”.
His family burst into a round of applause in the public gallery, and he was hugged as he left the court.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Scannell said: “Since July 2016, I have faced unbearable anguish, removal from my home and family, and have spent some of this time in prison.
“I am both grateful and relieved to have been found not guilty of these allegations, some two years later.
“I have always denied these allegations and am grateful for the jury’s verdict.
“My life has been destroyed over the last two years. I have been removed from my family and community – but I hope now to be able to rebuild my life and return to my community, with the help of my family.
“I will be forever grateful to all who supported me through this difficult process. I am also thankful to my legal team, and my faith in the legal process has been restored.
“I hope now, with the help of my family, to regain my standing within society and my own community.”