Retired priest set to face sex offences trial

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A retired priest has been ordered to stand trial accused of historical sex offences.

Fr John Joseph Murray, 78, of Marguerite Avenue, Newcastle, Co Down, appeared at Belfast Crown Court today in a wheelchair for an arraignment on two separate cases.

He pleaded not guilty to a first set of charges that he indecently assaulted two females on dates between December 31, 1976 and January 1, 1983.

Fr Murray, who was a priest in the St Matthews Parish in the Short Strand in east Belfast, further pleaded not guilty to a third separate charge of indecently assaulting another female on a date between December 31, 1987 and April 1, 1988.

Asked by Judge Stephen Fowler QC if there was an application to join both cases, prosecution barrister Kate McKay said there would be two separate trials on the charges.

Defence counsel Eilis McDermott QC said the trial on the first two charges could take up to two weeks.

Judge Fowler set the date for the first trial on Monday, November 18 this year.

At the request of his defence counsel, the judge agreed to release Murray on continuing bail.

He urged prosecution and defence to continue preparations for the second trial Murray will face on a future date.