Businessman cleared of sex abuse conviction

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A Co Armagh businessman jailed for sexually abusing a schoolboy 35 years ago has won his appeal against conviction.

The guilty verdict returned against 62-year-old Gerard Judge was held to be unsafe due to the lack of a proper direction to the jury about complaint evidence in the case.

In 2015 Judge, formerly of Millbrook Court in Lurgan, received a five-year sentence after being convicted on seven counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted buggery.

The alleged offences were committed against a boy aged 14 in the early 1980s.

Judge, who ran a pub in Portadown at the time, denied any of the assaults took place.

The Court of Appeal heard that the alleged victim raised the issue of inappropriate behaviour with his parents.

His evidence at trial was that he disclosed what had happened, although he did not specify what exactly he told them.

With the alleged victim’s mother now dead and his father not called to testify, there had been no independent evidence about their conversation.

Judge claimed the complaint related to an incident of horseplay with their son, and that he explained the context and apologised.

Ruling on the appeal, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan stressed the difficulty in defending historic sex cases with no independent evidence.

He pointed out that the jury had to decide whether they were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged victim complained to his parents about matters on the indictment.

The only direct evidence of conversation between the complainant’s parents and the defendant came from Judge himself.

Sir Declan held that no direction was given to the jury on issues which should have been brought to their attention, including a warning that the complaint was not itself independent evidence of offences being committed.

He said: “In the absence of a proper direction there was in our view a real risk that the jury would have given undue weight to the evidence of complaint, particularly in light of the importance it played in the prosecution closing speech.

“At the very least the absence of an appropriate direction leaves us with a distinct sense of unease in relation to the safety of this conviction.”

No adverse inference could be drawn from Judge’s undisputed meeting with the alleged victim’s mother about the complaint, he added.

Declaring the conviction unsafe, Sir Declan confirmed: “Accordingly, despite the late application, we extend time and allow the appeal.”