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Soldier accused of rape and sexual assault granted bail despite AWOL allegation

A police constable told court the accused had not been answering calls from police and one rifleman had said he was 'with a chick'

Armagh Courthouse

A serving soldier, who is accused of rape, has been granted bail despite police objections relating to previous breaches and an allegation that he had gone AWOL (Absent Without Leave).

The 23-year-old failed to appear at Armagh Magistrates’ Court, sitting at Newry, on Tuesday where his case was listed for the purposes of a preliminary enquiry (PE), the legal process during which a case is referred to the higher court.

Robert Politi, whose address was given as c/o Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, is charged with rape, sexual assault and sexual assault by penetration.

None of the facts in the case were heard, but the particulars allege that the offences occurred on June 21, of last year.

Speaking on Tuesday, defence barrister Kelly Doherty told court that her client was not in attendance and was travelling from England.

District Judge Bernie Kelly commented: “He has breached his bail by being in England…now you are telling me this is also the reason a PE cannot be held.”

Giving evidence via videolink, a constable stated she had been in contact with the army, who informed the defendant had been AWOL since June 2.

She stated that Politi had not been answering calls from the police and that one rifleman who had spoken with defendant said he was “with a chick”.

District Judge Kelly commented: “Is that of the feathered variety? Given what he is charged with that is a very demeaning way to refer to a member of the female sex.”

Ms Doherty asked the matter to be passed in order for her to check on the status of her client. Upon returning she confirmed that her instructing solicitor had also been unable to make contact with Politi.

District Judge Kelly duly issued a warrant for the arrest of the defendant.

The following day – Wednesday – Newry Magistrates’ Court heard Politi had been located and was in a Covid suite at Musgrave police station, after displaying symptoms.

In his absence, Ms Doherty informed court that her client had been travelling by boat from Liverpool on Tuesday and had in fact mistakenly believed his court appearance to be the following day.

She stated: “The difficulty is that the information I have is that he was not AWOL….he had been away on approved leave since May 27 and had gone to Liverpool to see family.

“Although his being in England was a breach of bail, when he has gone to England in the past we have made bail variations to allow this but that step was neglected on this occasion.”

Objecting to bail, a constable stated: “I was made aware that Mr Politi was on leave until June 1. On June 7 an officer in the Ministry Of Defence informed me that he was absent without leave.

“Since June 2, they have been trying to make contact with him but he has not been answering their calls.”

The officer also told the court that Politi had breached his bail in relation to these charges on three previous occasions.

He said the first was on July 20, and on this occasion the constable stated that it had been treated as a “missing person” but the defendant was later located with a female.

Then between August 28 and 30, of last year, it was reported that Politi had not been at the barracks as per his bail conditions.

The final breach occurred on December 10, when he failed to return to the barracks until 12.30am.

According to the constable, police feared that Politi would continue to return to England and continue to breach conditions of his bail.

She told court: “The army have said that they are reluctant to have anything to do with his bail and that there is a doubt over his future in the army as a listed AWOL soldier.”

District Judge Eamonn King enquired as to the status of the defendant in relation to Covid-19.

Ms Doherty stated that Politi was currently in isolation but had taken a test. If this were negative he would be free to leave but if not a 14-day isolation would be required.

The barrister submitted that there were “no issues” in relation to the defendant attending court for a preliminary enquiry.

Addressing the most recent breach, she stated that Politi had left the barracks to aid a fellow rifleman who had been assaulted with a glass and had to be taken to hospital.

Ms Doherty commented that some time had elapsed since the two earlier breaches in the matter.

District Judge King granted Politi bail on the same terms and listed his case for preliminary enquiry on June 22.

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