Top showjumper cleared of underage sex charge

Gabriel Tunney
Gabriel Tunney

A top Irish showjumper has been cleared of having underage sex with a 15-year-old former pony club student both here and in hotels in the Republic of Ireland.

It took the Omagh Crown Court jury, sitting in Belfast, several hours over the course of two days to find Co Fermanagh showjumping professional Gabriel Tunney not guilty by a majority of six counts of knowingly having sex with someone under the age of 16 on dates between April and the November 2010.

This was the third time the 42-year-old from Tattinweer in Tempo has had to stand trial on the charges he has always denied.

Mr Tunney left court with his wife Madeline, who has stood by her husband throughout always maintaining that nothing ever happened between him and the former schoolgirl, who is now aged 19.

By their verdicts the jury of eight men and three women accepted his pleas of innocence during the 12-day trial and the claims of his defence QC John McCrudden that his accuser was a “brazen liar ... a damaged child ... a flawed individual” who “at the drop of a hat could cold-bloodly lie”.

At the same time, the jury must also have rejected the prosecution “suggestion” that rather than the girl lying about their alleged illicit consensual sex, it was Mr Tunney who “has lied and lied to you consistently and lied continually ... a tissue of lies”.

Prosecution lawyer Peter Magill made the case that the show jumper was “evasive and would not answer a series of questions” when put to him in the witness box. He also said it was the Crown’s case that “whether she provoked it, or started it (the relationship) he certainly took part in it”.

However, Mr McCrudden told the jury it was the girl who was “willing to do anything to achieve her objective”. The barrister said the then teenager wanted to destroy those she felt crossed her and was capable of destructive manipulations in an effort “to bring down her prey when she wants it”.

Mr McCrudden told the jury the girl’s allegations, which she retracted five times before the case came to court, “got better with the telling”, and showed how “with ease and ability” she could change that story.

Describing her as an “accomplished, experienced liar”, Mr Tunney’s barrister also said there was “no doubt how smart she is”, but that she was also “the fruit of a poisoned tree”, “cold-blooded” and capable of manipulating phones to fabricate messages and plant texts.

However, throughout, said Mr McCrudden, she had “failed to destablise Mrs Tunney” who stood by her husband, as “she knows her husband”.

“She’s not stupid. She knows what he is capable of, and knows his character,” he said.

The jury also heard that the prosecution’s forensic strategy, which claimed to have produced his DNA profile, was also flawed as the tests on samples of ‘sperm heads’, along with other possible innocent materials taken from the girl’s bedroom, were not carried out in the proper order.

Mr McCrudden said that a defence expert argued while the combined material produced a DNA profile linking Mr Tunney to the bedroom, it could not be said which of the samples had gone to make that profile.

The jury also appear to have accepted Mr McCrudden’s closing arguments that “never in a million years” would they “come within a Beagle’s gowl” of convicting the father of two in a “case leaking at the seams ... a case shot through with every lie”.