A clergyman facing child sexual abuse charges may remain anonymous despite a journalist’s successful court fight to name him.
Freelance court reporter Tanya Fowles had successfully applied to reveal the identity of the former Presbyterian Church in Ireland minister.
But publication of the accused’s name has been put on hold after Dungannon Magistrates Court received notification from his defence counsel indicating his intention to judicially review the judge’s decision.
District Judge Michael Ranaghan had ruled in Tanya’s favour prior to the notification, saying he was “not satisfied this case warrants diversion from the principle of open justice”.
The accused faces 12 charges relating to indecent images of children, comprising six counts of making and three each of distributing and possessing.
The offences allegedly occurred between August 2016 and February 2017 while he was minister of two County Tyrone churches.
In attempting to keep their client’s name secret, the defence had insisted his former congregations are unaware of the charges, providing corroborating evidence from a senior Presbyterian official to the court, and claimed his rights take “precedence and priority” over those of media.
But Tanya emphasised a lack of formal notification, while concerning, did not “automatically translate as the congregations remaining ignorant”.
She also drew attention to the escalating trend of reporting restriction applications in courts, virtually all of which are for alleged sexual offending.
Tanya told HTFP: “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.'”
So far, no date has been provided for the judicial review.
A Presbyterian Church spokesperson told Tanya the accused has not been minister of his former congregations since October 2020, nor while when police investigations were ongoing.
Asked why the congregations were not formally notified and if the church’s child protection policy had been adhered to, the spokesperson said: “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.”