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Judge rescinds reporting restriction for Co Armagh sex offence accused after Press challenge

The judge previously granted an interim ban grounded on a GP note stating accused had previously self-harmed

A judge has rescinded a reporting restriction banning the naming of an alleged sex-offender who threatened to self-harm if identified.

John James Morgan (54) from Fearons Terrace, Bessbrook is charged with attempting to communicate sexually with a child and attempting to cause a child to look at an image of a person engaged in sexual activity, on dates between September 12 and November 19, 2022.

He first appeared in court on March 20 where a defence solicitor made the application without notice to Press.

The judge on that occasion granted an interim ban grounded on a GP note stating Morgan had previously self-harmed, but advising further evidence was required.

Press challenged this and during a review on April 17, District Judge Eamonn King noted the case was being fast-tracked to Crown Court and permitted until the committal hearing for the defence to provide evidence to the stipulated threshold.

On May 1, the case was transferred to Craigavon Crown Court.

At that hearing the defence stated: “An Anonymity Order (sic) was granted at first appearance which was extended. My application is for that to be extended again to allow the matter to be addressed at crown court. The defendant advises of issues on his part and we have sought medical evidence but it isn’t before court.

“His GP advises he is being treated by the mental health practitioner in the surgery, from whom we are seeking further correspondence.”

Judge King remarked: “I previously expended the order on the basis of Press documents before the court. If I were to be persuaded I needed additional medical evidence. I don’t have it and I’m not extending the Order.”

The defence replied: “The test the court has to apply is whether there is a real and immediate risk.”

But Judge King concluded: “On the evidence before me I’m not satisfied there is, therefore I am not extending the Order.”

In challenging the reporting restriction Press pointed out the defence failed to provide advance notice, or medical evidence, despite the procedures stipulated within the Judicial Studies Board Guidance.

This was highlighted to the Lady Chief Justice who, as in all previous instances, refused to engage, instead placing the onus on Press to challenge the Order.

In concluding, Press referenced the benchmark comments of Judge Gordon Kerr KC during a similar situation before Newry Crown Court in 2023, who said: “When the (magistrates court) judge made the order, protocol was not followed, nor where Press put on notice. That should not happen. No judge, whether at magistrates or crown court, should be invited to make a Reporting Restriction without following the full protocol and giving Press an opportunity to be heard, which was not done … Full notice should be given … with details of medical evidence relied upon. A summary of that is normally, properly given to Press.”

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