The Public Prosecution Service has decided not to appeal the sentence imposed on a sex-offender by a judge who caused controversy by advising him to “find a wife or partner and get a family and a home together”.
The remarks provoked a public backlash and led to the Lady Chief Justice intervening, by providing advice and guidance to Judge Brian Sherrard, who also stated the sentence “is the lightest touch I can afford”.
Cathal Patrick Feeney (36) from Main Street, Beragh was originally charged with raping the victim in her home, but later accepted a lesser charge of sexual assault.
They met through the ‘Plenty of Fish’ site enjoying a night out without incident, but during a second date, over dinner in a hotel on March 7, 2020, the victim found Feeney, “paranoid and argumentative”.
She went home but within minutes, he arrived at her door.
While agreeing to let him in, she warned of “no funny business”.
However Feeney sexually assaulted her and when challenged replied: “It’ll be alright. We’ll talk in the morning.”
When first charged, police described him as: “Dangerous to females. He has 67 previous offences, some of which are domestic in nature. He is managed by a specialist unit as a violent offender.”
Dungannon Crown Court heard Feeney ignored the victim’s objections and “prioritised himself and ran roughshod over her concerns”.
Eight women have taken out Non-Molestation Orders against him over time, including his mother and grandmother, and he has numerous convictions for assaults and court order breaches.
A Probation Officer considered Feeney to be dangerous, but Judge Sherrard rejected this and referred to the opinion of a prison chaplain Father Michael Bingham (now deceased) who contended: “The character image of the defendant being a menace to vulnerable women is one I find hard to reconcile given his moral sensibilities.”
Imposing a four-and-half-year prison sentence, largely served on remand, Judge Sherrard told Feeney: “You are still a young man. There’s nothing to stop you moving on with your life in a more productive way, finding work or finding a wife or partner, getting a family and a home together. The order imposed is the lightest touch I can afford.”
A Sexual Offences Prevention Order was also imposed however the Judge refused to ban Feeney from contacting females by the internet as “I do not want him excluded from normal life. It’s not the online contact which proved problematic but rather the behaviour afterwards”.
The comments sparked fury with Sinn Fein’s Linda Dillon MLA and Democratic Unionist Diane Forsythe MLA making formal complaints to the Lady Chief Justice, the most senior of Northern Ireland’s judiciary.
Acknowledging the comments caused legitimate concern, the Lady Chief Justice said: “I have considered the full transcript of the judge’s sentencing remarks and have spoken to him and provided advice and guidance. In light of the importance of this issue, I have also arranged for further guidance and training for all judiciary, to address these concerns.”
Last month the PPS confirmed consideration was underway to establish if there were grounds to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal.
On Monday, a spokesperson advised: “We have given detailed and careful consideration to the sentence handed down, including a thorough examination of the facts of the case, the relevant law and the sentencing guidelines.
“As a result, it has been concluded that the sentence was not outside the range the Judge could have reasonably imposed. In these circumstances it cannot be referred to the Court of Appeal.”