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Richhill woman found guilty of ‘sexting’ 14-year-old schoolgirl freed pending sentence

She was told to 'make alternative arrangements' for a child in her care as the judge warned: "The likely outcome the court will be considering is an immediate custodial sentence.”

A Co Armagh foster mum has been told to “make alternative arrangements for the care of the child” after she was unanimously convicted of ‘sexting’ a teenage schoolgirl.

The Newry Crown Court jury deliberated for 40 minutes on Friday morning before unanimously convicting 50-year-old Amanda McClean on each of the six counts against her.

Sitting in the dock McClean, also known as Browne, showed no emotion as the foreperson read out each of the jury’s damning verdicts.

But she did look shocked when Judge Gordon Kerr QC asked if there was “any compelling reason why she should not be placed into custody” to await her sentence.

Defence counsel Seamus Lannon revealed that McClean, who celebrated her 50th birthday during the course of the week long trial, “is the carer for a heavily disabled 12-year-old” and reminded the Judge she had always attended court “on any day she was required” with no issues.

McClean, from Sleepy Valley in Richhill, was convicted of six offences committed between October 3 and 11, 2018, including four counts of sexual communication with a child and single charges of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and meeting a child following sexual grooming.

During the trial which started last Monday, the jury heard how McClean met the then 14-year-old schoolgirl through a relative a few months before the offences came to light in October 2018.

Teachers at the teenager’s school seized her mobile phone and, when her mother checked through it, she saw “numerous examples of sexualised conversation going to and from the girl’s phone”.

“The person sending the messages indicates that a relationship would be inappropriate but then ends the text saying ‘I love you’,” said prosecuting counsel Geraldine McCullough, who quoted from another message: “I can’t wait to get at you properly. It’s going to be mind-blowing. I’m horny as f***.”

She told the jury that a series of messages was “indicative of an understanding between the parties that they were engaging in a sex act at the same time while texting each other”.

“There are messages which are a graphic example of sexting and refers to kissing, licking and orgasm,” said Ms McCullough.

Arrested and interviewed, McClean denied the messages had come from her, but the jury heard evidence that the phone number which sent the messages, despite it being registered to a Joe Bloggs, was registered to the defendant’s address and that the SIM card was ordered online using the defendant’s internet provider address.

Despite knowing the jury were entitled to draw an adverse inference against her, McClean opted not to give evidence on her own behalf, with Mr Lannon indicating that he had taken “very careful instructions” about how she wanted to conduct her case.

During her closing speech to the jury on Thursday, Ms McCullough argued that the “overwhelming” evidence clearly pointed to McClean sending the messages, which had “sexual connotations” and an “element of grooming” and suggested to the jury they might think “this case was screaming for an explanation”.

Instead, said the lawyer, McClean “says nothing to you”, but remains silent while her defence team suggest that she has been set up but cannot adduce any evidence to support that contention.

“We say that you should have no difficulty in deciding that the defendant is guilty,” declared Ms McCullough.

Mr Lannon, however, argued there was “no direct evidence” to link McClean to the messages which had been sent, and further, that the police had failed to investigate the possibility they could have been sent by someone else.

“We say there’s a reasonable doubt in this case and the defendant is entitled to the benefit of that doubt,” said the counsellor.

By their verdicts, the jury were clearly satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt” that McClean was responsible for the highly sexualised messages.

As a result of the convictions, Judge Kerr ordered McClean to sign the police sex offenders register and, addressing the issue of bail, he said he would grant continuing bail but with an added condition that the paedophile has no contact with any child except for the child she currently cares for.

Adjourning passing sentence until April 29, by which time a pre-sentence probation report will have been written, the judge told McClean “the fact that you are being released is no indication of the ultimate sentence”.

“You have a caring responsibility and I would strongly advise you to make alternative arrangements for the care of the child,” Judge Kerr told the convicted pervert.

And he added: “I have to warn you the likely outcome the court will be considering is an immediate custodial sentence.”

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