Priest Wins Appeal over Sex Conviction

January 17, 2012

A Catholic priest jailed for sexually abusing three young girls more than 40 years ago is set to be freed after partially winning his appeal against conviction.

Senior judges on Tuesday overturned three of eleven counts of indecent assault Father Eugene Lewis was found guilty of committing.

A four-year prison sentence imposed on the 77-year-old in September 2010 was also reduced to two years and nine months.

With his time behind bars now served, preparations were being made to have him released from custody.

Reasons for the decision reached by the Court of Appeal in Belfast will be given at a later date.

The abuse was alleged to have been carried out in Co Fermanagh between 1963 and 1973, beginning when the girls were aged as young as seven.

At the time Lewis was based at the College of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, also known as the Order of the White Fathers, in Blacklion, Co Cavan.

Despite his suggestions that the accusers were motivated by a family conspiracy or compensation claims, he was convicted by a jury at Omagh Crown Court at the end of a six-week trial.

The priest always maintained his innocence and claimed to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

His legal team argued that issues around excessive delay, contaminated evidence and the admissibility of supposed "reprehensible" behaviour cast doubt over the guilty verdict.

During the appeal it emerged that medical records showed one of the complainants was treated in hospital for psychiatric issues.

As part of her therapy she was said to have stated that she had not been abused.

Counsel for Lewis contended that the prosecution had material which was either capable of undermining its case or aiding that of his client.

Delivering his judgement, Lord Justice Higgins confirmed the appeal was being allowed on the first three counts of indecent assault.

The court dismissed the challenge against the remaining eight counts on the indictment.

"The effect of that, as the parties will recognise, is to reduce the sentence imposed from one of four years imprisonment to two years and nine months," Lord Justice Higgins added.

Prosecutors will now decide whether to seek a retrial on the overturned convictions.

Outside the court a lawyer for the priest suggested the fight to fully clear his name may continue with a possible application to the UK Supreme Court.

Joe McVeigh, of Kevin R Winters and Co, said: "It is to be welcomed the Fr Eugene Lewis will be released imminently as a result of today's decision, particularly regarding his age.

"However, whilst we await the written judgment outlining the full rationale behind the decision, Fr Eugene and his legal representatives can take no satisfaction from it given that the convictions on certain counts have been upheld."

Mr McVeigh pointed out that the judges must have had concerns over the safety of the convictions relating to one complainant.

He added: "It's the initial view of the defence team that we will pursue our legal arguments that the convictions regarding the other two complainants are also unsafe."


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