A woman who claimed the IRA covered up allegations that one of its members raped her says she has been vindicated by a report heavily criticising prosecutors’ handling of her case.
The independent review by Sir Keir Starmer today prompted Northern Ireland’s director of public prosecutions (DPP) to apologise to Mairia Cahill and two other women who accused the alleged IRA man of abusing them as children.
The attempted prosecutions of Martin Morris for alleged sex abuse and IRA membership – and four others accused of IRA membership linked to Ms Cahill’s claims of a republican cover-up – never got to trial because the three women withdrew their evidence.
Ms Cahill, 33, from Belfast, a grand-niece of prominent republican Joe Cahill, went to the police in 2010 claiming she was raped as a teenager by Mr Morris in 1997.
She claimed republican paramilitaries conducted their own inquiry and subjected her to interrogation before forcing her to confront her alleged attacker.
Her claims, highlighted in a BBC documentary last year, shone a light on how the IRA dealt with alleged sex abusers during a time when co-operation with the police in republican communities in Northern Ireland was extremely limited.
Sir Keir’s report said that in order for the interests of the three alleged victims to be protected, it was “imperative that the sexual abuse case be tried with all reasonable expediency”.
But that did not happen.
The report said “the time taken to reach decisions to prosecute in the membership cases was too long”, and that “the overall delay in the sexual abuse prosecution was unacceptable”.
It said the result of the delays was that “each case became weaker over time” as “key witnesses pulled out” and “evidential leads were not pursued”.
Given the “significant failings in this case” it concludes that “it was almost inevitable” that the three alleged victims would “pull out of the process”.
The lead prosecution counsel, a barrister employed by the PPS, was criticised for failing to oppose a request by defence teams to change the order in which the trials were to be held.
The request was granted and meant the sexual abuse trial could not go ahead until the charges of IRA membership had been dealt with first.
Sir Keir described this as a significant step, and said the lead prosecution lawyer failed to consult with senior PPS management or the alleged victims.
“From that date on, the sexual abuse case was held back pending the trial of the membership cases,” the report said.
“There were grounds for strongly opposing the defence argument and submitting that the sexual abuse case should be prioritised, as it had been since the beginning of the case, not only by the court but by the police and prosecutors.”
After the women withdrew their evidence, not guilty verdicts were returned for all five defendants – Morris, Padraic Wilson, Seamus Finucane, Briege Wright and Agnes McCrory – all of whom have strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Northern Ireland’s DPP Barra McGrory QC said he was committed to ensuring the mistakes made would not be allowed to happen again.
“I want to take this opportunity to express as director of public prosecutions a sincere apology to the three victims in these cases,” he said.
“It is clear that our service to them fell far short of the standard that they – and indeed the PPS – would expect.”
Ms Cahill said she cried when she met Sir Keir to discuss his findings on Friday morning.
She said the report had backed her long-time insistence that PPS failings had left her with little option but to withdraw her evidence.
“The apology is welcome but it’s pretty upsetting you end up in this situation,” she said.