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Boland supporters walk free from court
TWO women supporters of former Strabane priest Fr Eugene Boland, who cheered as he was cleared of sex abuse charges last month, were allowed to walk free from court today after a judge accepted their apologies for the outburst.
Sarah Kerrigan from Patrick Street in Derry, and Michelle Ruddy of Culdaff had been charged with contempt of court. They were visibiy relieved when Judge Stephen Fowler QC said he would take the matter no further.
Judge Fowler told the women, who could have been jailed, that by their apology they had “purged their contempt” at Derry Crown Court on June 27 last.
The Derry judge, sitting in Belfast’s Laganside Courthouse, said while the public had a right to attend court, they also had to show respect and to respect the dignity of everyone else attending court.
Judge Fowler also told their defence QC Brian McCartney that there were two sides in every criminal trial and that the interests of both parties have to be protected, together with the proceedings themselves, which included the delivery of the jury verdict.
Earlier Mr McCartney, who described the two women as “associates and friends” of Fr Boland, said they had been caught up by “the intensity of feelings” when the jury had announced their verdicts in the case.
Mr McCartney said the verdicts “led to expressions of approval which were overheard” for which both women “wished to apologise for the expressions of approval which they uttered at that time”.
The lawyer told Judge Fowler they were not aware of a warning he had given following an earlier outburst during the hearing.
Mr McCartney said both women were widely known in their parishes for their voluntary work carried out on behalf of the church.
In Mrs Kerrigan’s case, over the past 30 years she had worked in youth clubs, and had been a member of the parish council and a governor at her local school, while Mrs Ruddy was also well known for her voluntary church work.
In conclusion Mr McCarney said that “both women wish, through me, to offer their sincere apologies” for their outburst, which he added, was not meant as a sign of “disrespect to the court”.
The women had clapped and cheered when the 66-year-old priest was cleared of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl 20 years ago.
Following a week-long trial, the jury, by majority verdicts, acquitted Fr Boland of five charges of indecent assault.