A courtroom descended into chaos after a jury cleared a Co Tyrone man of sexually assaulting a teenager babysitting his children.
Threats were heard amongst angry exchanges during which the complainant’s father struck the glass surround of the dock and her mother collapsed, and was taken to hospital by ambulance.
The scene was played out in front of the jury who had just delivered their verdict, with calm only restored when Judge Brian Sherrard QC ordered the public gallery to be cleared.
He also warned the defendant to keep quiet, as he had responded to the verbal abuse.
Aged in his 30s, the defendant, who cannot be identified, denied committing the offences on September 7, 2019, while his child lay between him and the complainant.
During the trial, Dungannon Crown Court heard the complainant had accompanied her friend to babysit a relative’s children.
The mother went out shortly after their arrival and the girls said they put the children into separate beds, in the same room and stayed with them. One child was unsettled and the complainant lay alongside her.
The child dozed, but stirred when the defendant came home, so he entered the room and also lay beside her.
The room was dark and became quiet as the children fell asleep.
With the child between them in the bed, the complainant alleges he put his hand on her stomach, which she pushed away.
He then allegedly touched her thigh, placed his hand between her legs, touched her breasts, slid his hand inside her underwear leaving her “uncomfortable and scared”.
The alleged incident stopped when his partner returned home.
However the defendant refuted any touching occurred at all.
He described playing darts on the afternoon in question, when his partner rang saying she was heading out and had a babysitter sorted.
He claimed on arriving home around midnight, both teenagers were downstairs with his eldest child. He told her to go to bed, which she did. He followed a few minutes later and lay alongside the child while she settled.
The defendant insisted he lay on top of the bed, fully clothed. Shortly after, the complainant came upstairs and crawled up the bed on her hands and knees. She got under the covers by “pulling the duvet back, obviously”, although he accepted not seeing this.
He was shocked when he was arrested over the allegations, which he denied throughout several interviews and fully cooperated with police
Asked if he touched the complainant in any way, even accidentally, the defendant relied, “Absolutely not”.
He denied the bed was “cramped” with three people in it and after the child drifted off, he lay for about 10 minutes, then left without, as the prosecution put it, “Never once looking to the right where (the child) and a teenage girl were in the bed”.
“I obviously knew (the complainant) was in the bed,” he added.
Asked if he had any difficulties with the complainant, her family, the defendant replied, “Absolutely not”.
The jury retired today (Wednesday) and after a few hours deliberation returned not guilty verdicts.
Following the angry exchanges, the judge thanked the jury for their attention adding: “I hope you were not upset by that scene. It’s not unusual that these cases bring out very high emotions.”
As a result he offered anyone affected by what occurred the option to be excluded from further jury service for five years.
Concluding, Judge Sherrard told the defendant he was free to go.