Suspended jail term for Belfast man who sexually touched 14-year-old

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An east Belfast man who told a 14-year-old girl he was “going to have sex with her” in his locked car walked from court on Friday with a suspended 18-month prison sentence.

Rodney Manley (45), formerly of The Mount, pleaded guilty to a charge of sexually touching the school girl while giving her a lift home on dates between June and July 2013.

Prosecutor Ros Scott Bell asked that a further charge of meeting the teenager following sexual grooming to be “left on the books in the usual terms”.

She told Antrim Crown Court that in the summer of 2013 Manley gave the girl, now aged 17, a lift to her home in Dundonald but en route he pulled the car over into a layby near Longstone Special School.

While the teenager sat directly behind Manley in a rear passenger street, “the defendant took off his seat belt, turned off the engine, took the keys out of the ignition and locked the car door and put the keys in his pocket’’.

Mrs Scott Bell added: “He put his knees on either side of the two front seats, turned to her and stared at her.

“He then moved forward and reached into the back and rubbed her leg and his hand then moved up her high. He grabbed her close and tried to kiss her.

“The defendant told her they were ‘going to have sex’. The complainant was panicking.’’

Judge Donna McColgan QC was told that the complainant “heard the car doors unlocking’’ and that it appeared Manley had accidentally knocked the keys against the seat which cancelled the central locking mechanism.

“She took advantage of the opportunity to get away from him and ran home. She did not tell anyone what had happened and went straight to her room,’’ said the prosecution barrister.

Over the next few days, the teenager received text messages from Manley using the name “Rod’’ which were discovered by her mother’s partner.

The court heard that after the step father took her phone, Manley sent her a text message, saying: “You should have been more careful with your phone.’’ He told her he was getting rid of his phone and was getting a new one.

The judge heard that after the girl made her complaint to police, Manley was arrested and interviewed by detectives. He denied the allegations, saying they were “sick’’, adding: “They are the biggest load of nonsense I have ever heard.’’

He told police that the girl was sitting in the front seat of the car and denied he had locked the car to prevent her escape.

Mrs Scott Bell added: “By his guilty plea he has now accepted that what he told was not true and what she told the police was a true account.’’

The court heard that the defendant had a number of previous convictions including a ten month sentence for cultivating cannabis in 2013.

A pre-sentence report stated that Manley did not pose a danger to the public in the future and was assessed as being a medium risk of likely reoffending.

Defence barrister Ian Turkington said Manley’s guilty plea was “an indication of his remorse’’, adding: “I have been asked to offer his apology to the complainant in this case.’’

He told the judge that following publication in a newspaer of his first appearance in court, Manley was visiting his brother’s house in east Belfast when “five men came through the front door of the house, two held him down and he was assaulted with baseball bats with nails. He suffered quite serious factures and wounds. He still remains in pain.’’

Mr Turkington added that father-of-two Manley, who is originally from Enniskillen, moved to Belfast as a young boy as his father was in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and travelled about through work.

He said that a number of his relatives were caught up in the Enniskillen Poppy day bomb attack in November 1987.

The barrister urged Judge McColgan QC “not to impose an immediate custodial sentence’’ saying Manley had not committed any further offences in the intervening 30 months.

“He found his previous incarceration a very difficult experience. It has proved a salutary experience,’’ said Mr Turkington.

Judge McColgan QC said Manley’s culpabilty in the case was “high’’ and the “depth of harm to the complainant is significant’’.

Stating the “sexual touching was at the lower end of scale of such offence’’, the judge said that Manley had told “quite a number of lies’’ during the course of his police interviews but now accepted the events as described by the complainant.

Manley was sentenced to 18 months in prison suspended for three years.

He was also banned from working with children, was placed on the sex offenders’ register for ten years and was made the subject of a Sexual Offenders Prevention Order for the same period.

Judge McColgan QC also granted a restraining order which prevents Manley from approaching the complainant or her mother and bans him from going near their home.