A man accused of sexually assaulting his partner’s 8-year-old daughter was found not guilty this week after a judge-alone trial.
Justice Charles Quin accepted defense attorney Laura Larner’s submission that there was no case to answer. The defendant had faced two counts of indecent assault, two counts of gross indecency and one count of attempted rape.
Justice Quin acknowledged there was no supporting evidence in the case – no witnesses, no DNA, no physical evidence. For example, the girl described activity by a male relative that would have amounted to rape. She was examined by a medical doctor, who found no sign of sexual abuse.
The girl’s mother gave evidence that her daughter had told her of being abused by two of the mother’s relatives, but the girl did not tell her about alleged abuse by the defendant. A psychologist who saw the child said the girl knew how to behave badly to get what she wanted; she was prepared to distort what had happened to get what she wanted.
Ms. Larner said what the girl wanted was for the defendant to leave the home.
The court heard evidence that the girl slept on a mattress in the same bedroom as her mother and mother’s partner. There was also evidence of a mentally challenged relative who performed indecent acts in front of the girl on many occasions.
Exposure to sexual activity by that relative as well as by the mother and her boyfriend had led to severe behavioral and emotional disturbance, a psychologist had indicated.
The judge described the girl as a damaged, neglected and emotionally disturbed child who had been subjected to sexual abuse and highly inappropriate sexual conduct. He accepted Ms. Larner’s submission that in all these disturbing circumstances, the girl’s evidence was unreliable.
Crown counsel Greg Walcolm had argued that the girl’s evidence was consistent and she had said she was not lying. Justice Quin noted that the girl’s interview with a social worker was not a spontaneous account of what had happened, but rather it was her responses to the social worker’s questions about good and bad touching. He said he did not criticize the social worker, who was doing her best to control the girl, but she had been led at crucial times by terms of endearment or encouragement.
“As a result, her evidence leaves me, as the tribunal of fact, with a very uncomfortable feeling as to its truth and reliability,” he said.
“I think everybody concedes this is a very sad case,” the judge commented. It had taken a long time to investigate and it had been difficult to investigate. He said no criticism should be leveled at the police or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.