Man who murdered his niece given new jail sentence for abusing young boy

John Clifford.
John Clifford.

A 57-year-old man currently serving a life sentence for murdering his niece was handed another jail term on Wednesday after he admitted sexually abusing a young boy.

John Clifford, who was jailed in 1989 for abducting his eight-year old niece Sue-Ellen from her north Belfast home before raping and murdering her then dumping her body on a disused railway line, was given a five-year sentence by Judge David McFarland.

Relatives of the murdered girl sat in the public gallery, and after sentence was passed, they called him “scum” and, clutching a picture of Sue-Ellen, shouted at him “look at what you have taken away from us. Look at us. Life should mean life. They should lock you up and throw away the key.”

Prior to this, Belfast Crown Court heard Clifford, whose address was given as ‘no fixed abode’, confessed to sexually abusing the boy over a two-year period from 1984 to 1986, when he was aged between three and four.

A prosecutor said Clifford would sit the child on his knee, they would watch a video of a train journey and that every time the train went under a bridge, the boy would be forced to perform a sex act on him.

The prosecutor said: “This went on for two years, each time it happened it was the same, including the video.”

Clifford initially denied abusing the boy in the mid 80s in the south east Antrim area, and a trial commenced at Belfast Crown Court last month. However, after the hearing was opened and before any evidence was presented, Clifford changed his plea and admitted three charges of indecent assault.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge McFarland pointed out that had these offences been committed after a change in legislation, Clifford would have been charged with rape and not sexual assault.

Clifford’s conviction for murdering his niece was mentioned during today’s sentencing. The prosecutor told the Judge a post mortem revealed she had been sexually assaulted, and that Clifford has since admitted this.

A barrister acting on behalf of Clifford said that the man before the court today was “not the same man” he was in the 80s and said: “He has asked me to apologise profusely for his behaviour to the injured party in this case.”

Pointing out that Clifford’s change of plea spared his victim from giving evidence at a trial, the barrister said his client was “working hard on his rehabilitation” but said his future was “uncertain.”

Judge McFarland branded Clifford’s offending against the young boy as “sinister”, and noted there were “certain sexual aspects” regarding his niece’s murder, which occurred two years after he abused the boy.

The Judge also told Clifford “the offending by you ... has had a significant impact on the child, who is now a man”, adding he has subsequently been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As well as being handed a five-year sentence, Clifford was told he will be both on the Sex Offenders Register, and subject to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, for life.