Abuse occurred in Ardoyne area in 70s and 80s
Two women who were sexually molested as children yesterday welcomed a 12-year sentence handed to their abuser declaring “we’ve finally got our justice”.
Francis McDonnell was jailed for what Judge Geoffrey Millar QC described as a “very serious case of pre-meditated abuse of young children, sustained over a period of several years”.
The 63-year old, originally from North Belfast and with an address of Ardowen in Craigavon, Co Armagh faced two trials last year and was convicted by a jury of offences against both complainants.
As the grandfather-of-16 was being led into custody from the dock of Downpatrick Crown Court in handcuffs, he turned to both his victims and said ‘you may hope I die in jail’.
Before handing McDonnell the sentence, which will be divided between six years behind bars followed by six years on licence, Judge Miller said that despite being convicted by a jury following two trials, he continues to maintain his innocence.
McDonnell claimed that whilst one of the complainants had a vendetta against him, he couldn’t actually remember the other complainant.
He targeted and sexually abused both complainants in the Ardoyne area of Belfast in the late 70s and early 80s, the court heard. Although both women want to remain anonymous, they wanted McDonnell to be named for the first time and the public made aware of the crimes he committed against them as children.
One of the victims, who is now 47, was first targeted by McDonnell when she was four and was abused until she was 11. The abuse ended for a period but he targeted her again when she was aged 14/15 when he raped her in his home.
Reacting to the sentence, she said: “He always told me nobody would believe me, but the truth came out and he’s in jail now. He still gives me the same feeling now as he did when I was a child. I still freeze, I’m still afraid of him. I can’t believe he threatened us, even now.
“He took my childhood away from me and to this day what he did affects me. I don’t hug people, I don’t like anyone touching me. I’m glad he’s in prison now.”
The second complainant was first abused when she was three, and his campaign continue until her family moved from the area when she was seven. She is now 43.
She said: “I moved away from Belfast because of what happened to me for a long time, and I thought it would be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ but it wasn’t.
“He ruined my life, he took my childhood away from me and I came back with the sole reason to get him for what he did. I went to Nexus in 2016 and now he’s locked up.
“He told us in court ‘you may hope I die in jail.’ Well, I hope he does.”
Peter Irvine QC, for the Crown, noted ten aggravating factors which included the vulnerability of both of McDonnell’s victims due to their young age, the “protracted” period of time the abuse occurred and also “the gap of four or five years before the offence of rape occurred”.
Mr Irvine also spoke of the lasting impact McDonnell’s actions have had on both women, and revealed McDonnell had previous convictions for abusing a five-year old and an eight-year old in the mid 80s.
Niall Hunt QC, representing McDonnell, said that since leaving school at 15, his client had a steady work record which included employment with the DoE.
He also told Judge Millar his client “is not in great health” which includes very poor eyesight.
Saying his client’s offending ended in the 80s, Mr Hunt added: “There are no further offences in the pipeline and no-one has suggested there is anything else hanging over him or waiting to come out.”
During yesterday’s sentencing, Judge Millar noted McDonnell’s continued denials and a lack of remorse. The Judge also said: “There can be no doubt that both complainants suffered trauma which has impacted on their development, childhood and into adulthood.”
Judge Millar handed McDonnell a 12-year sentence which he said was “justified and necessary” for the protection of the public. He also placed McDonnell on the Sex Offenders Register for an indefinite period, and made him the subject of a ten-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order.
With many thanks to: Belfast Live and Ashleigh McDonald for the original story
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