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Former church minister to challenge press legal win to name him in child sexual images charges

Dungannon Court

Despite Press winning a legal challenge to name a former church minister facing trial for the alleged possession of indecent images of children, it has been confirmed he intends to judicially review the ruling.

The accused’s lawyers sought a complete ban on any coverage until the judicial review proceedings conclude, which was rejected by Press.

While a spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland confirmed the accused stood down as a minister just under a year ago and had no role during police investigations, they stopped short of explaining why officials did not formally disclose the case to the relevant congregations.

Still listed on court papers with an address at his former church manse, it has been confirmed the accused, who is aged in his fifties, no longer resides there.

He faces 12 charges relating to indecent images of children, comprising six counts of making and three each of distributing and possessing.

Offending allegedly occurred between August 2016 and February 2017 while he was minister of two County Tyrone churches.

Appearing before Dungannon Magistrates’ Court by video-link from his solicitor’s office, he declined to call witnesses or give evidence on his own behalf at this stage.

District Judge Michael Ranaghan remanded him on £500 bail to appear for arraignment at Dungannon Crown Court on November 15.

The case has been repeatedly adjourned while defence lawyers argued for a ban on publicly naming the accused claiming a risk of self-harm, expressly attributed to identification in association with the allegations – a position robustly challenged by Press.

The defence initially relied on a psychiatric report dating back over a year, which pointed to concerns but not requiring additional input.

The court directed an up-to-date report which found some deterioration but recommended only a medication review.

Neither report indicated risk to the statutory threshold of ‘real and imminent’ nor was there any suggestion the accused is unfit for trial.

The second report notably described him as, “isolating himself from the world rather than embracing his current difficulties.”

The defence insisted their client’s former congregations are unaware of the charges, providing corroborating evidence from a senior Presbyterian official to the court.

However Press emphasised a lack of formal notification, while concerning, did not automatically translate as the congregations remaining ignorant. Sources have confirmed they learned of the charges by other means, following the accused’s resignation in October 2020.

Press also drew attention to the escalating trend of Reporting Restriction applications in courts, virtually all of which are for alleged sexual offending.

Nonetheless the defence insisted the accused’s rights take “precedence and priority” over those of media.

Following consideration, Judge Ranaghan referenced conflicting commentary within the psychiatric reports and ruling in favour of Press, held risk was no greater than any person facing similar matters.

“I’m not satisfied this case warrants diversion from the principle of open justice,” he said.

Notification was then received from the accused’s lawyers indicating his intention to judicially review the judge’s decision.

So far, no date has been provided for this.

Meanwhile a Presbyterian Church spokesperson said the accused has not been minister of his former congregations since October 2020, nor while when police investigations were ongoing. As he is no longer minister of his former congregations, he does not reside in the manse.

Asked why the congregations were not formally notified and if the church’s child protection policy had been adhered to, the spokesperson replied: “Formal court proceedings have now been initiated and it would be inappropriate for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to make any further comment at this time, as it is an ongoing criminal case.”

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