A horse trader who left a child severely traumatised after engaging in sexual activity has been jailed and placed under a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO).
Mark McGurk (23), previously from Cookstown and latterly Aghinduff Park, Dungannon, was originally charged with rape, which he denied.
On the morning a trial was to begin at Dungannon Crown Court, McGurk admitted a lesser charge leading to immediate sex offender registration.
Today (Thursday) the victim and her family were present as McGurk stood in the dock for sentencing.
The court heard McGurk attended a birthday party in Cookstown on October 5, 2019 and became intoxicated on alcohol and cocaine.
The victim was also at the party and when it ended, she joined McGurk in a male’s car for “a lap around the town”.
During this they stopped at a shop where McGurk purchased condoms, initially telling police the victim did this, although he later corrected that.
They travelled to McGurk’s home where he and the victim got out, but the other man drove off.
Her phone battery ran out, but McGurk stated he would get her home.
However once indoors, sex took place.
Defence counsel stressed sexual activity was never denied and, “A trial was avoided. A potentially invasive cross-examination was avoided. There was recognition the complainant was under age. I seek significant credit for the plea.”
He said there was no coercion and “the absolute mischief is the age of the complainant and that is accepted. She was under age and that is a criminal offence”.
The age gap between the parties was “not gross” according to the defence, who stressed McGurk is well thought of by many.
Two character references for McGurk described him as “respectful and trustworthy” and “of great integrity and very high moral standards”.
While accepting a SOPO was a matter for the court, the defence argued: “Sentencing is an overall package of both punishment and risk … Any order of that type is an interference with one’s liberty within a society.”
The defence referred to high media attention of the case, particularly around a recent bail variation allowing McGurk to attend his girlfriend’s formal in the Europa Hotel, Belfast.
“It was certainly more prominent than one might expect,” said the defence. “Without in any way diminishing the impact of offending, the media attention has caused considerable distress to my client’s family.”
Judge Brian Sherrard QC described the case as very serious and the purchase of condoms indicated a level of planning.
Addressing McGurk, he said: “While sex was not coercive, consent does not arise. The injured party was far too young to give consent, representing an entirely inappropriate incident due to her age. Your culpability is insignificant.
“She was a schoolgirl and you were a fully grown man. She was young and vulnerable. Even at this late stage, you appear to have difficulty in recognising the impact on her.”
The judge noted: “I am left in no doubt your actions caused the victim material harm. Her life has changed. She is frightened and her mental wellbeing has suffered. This incident still intrudes on many areas of her life. You are assessed as a medium risk of reoffending with high need for supervision.”
In respect of press interest, Judge Sherrard told McGurk that while this may have been distressing, “you are the author of your own misfortune”.
He imposed a prison term of 15 months, to be served half in custody and half on licence, along with a five-year SOPO.