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Another alleged sex offender granted anonymity after self-harm threat if named

Dungannon Court

Another alleged sex-offender has been granted interim anonymity in court after threatening to self-harm if his identity is published.

The accused, who is aged in his twenties, is charged with two counts of possessing indecent images of a female child on March 4, 2022.

Lawyers mounted an application at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court to ban the accused’s name from publication due to his threat to self-harm if identified in connection with the allegations.

It was confirmed a psychiatric assessment is to be sought in this respect.

Deputy District Judge Sean O’Hare granted the interim order and adjourned the case until next month.

Applications for reporting bans in respect of defendants facing sexual offences threatening self-harm have become increasingly common over the last few years and whether or not they are granted often depends on the judge.

Some refuse to entertain them while others agree, in a few notable instances without ensuring adherence to procedures.

Press in the main challenge the orders as many rely on assessment reports obtained by defence lawyers from privately sourced psychiatrists and not treating clinicians.

If risk is assessed real and imminent there is a requirement to seek to have the defendant admitted to an appropriate facility for safe-guarding, however, this rarely occurs.

There is also a necessity for any clinician involved in a defendant’s care or assessment, including GPs to alert the Driver and Vehicle Agency as to their suitability to drive, as self-harm ideation is automatically considered a risk factor.

To date, this has never happened in such an application.

In addition, only press are affected by reporting bans as the threat of self-harm will have no bearing on any other sector.

It will not stop the prosecution, nor prevent outcomes, such as imprisonment if convicted.

The approach to reporting bans for sex-offenders in Northern Ireland is in marked contrast to the rest of the United Kingdom, despite identical legislation.

In the last year matters went a stage further when judges in two different crown court divisions granted lifetime anonymity for sex-offenders.

One was handed a Probation Order in Newry Crown Court for possessing indecent child images and while the judge initially granted a press application to lift the reporting ban, which had been in place throughout the case travelling through the system, he swiftly reimposed it when the defendant threatened to self-harm.

The second occurred in Antrim Crown Court for a defendant who engaged in sexual communication with what he thought were 12-year-old girls but were in fact police decoys.

Having been granted anonymity on first appearing in court, this was removed at sentencing.

Despite jailing the defendant, which press argued was a mitigating safeguard, the judge decided it should remain for life as “I acknowledge there should be a considerable degree of supervision in prison, but it remains a fact unhappily that people do still take their own lives in prison”.

Until these cases, the existing lifetime anonymity orders across the United Kingdom related to cases of murder and generally applied to new identities for offenders on release from prison.

They include Robert Thompson and Jon Venables who murdered toddler Jamie Bulger; Mary Bell who, aged 10, tortured and murdered two boys in 1968 and Maxine Carr, jailed for lying to protect her partner Ian Huntley who murdered Soham schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Two schoolgirls who murdered a vulnerable woman in 2016 remained under statutory restrictions for any youth offender, but on turning 18 a court anonymised their identities for life.

The crimes in question and reasons for anonymity are strikingly different to the two Northern Ireland cases, which in turn are entirely akin to each.

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