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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 19:13 GMT
Teen cleared of sex attack
Mr Johnston (left) outside court with his solicitor
Mr Johnston (left) outside court with his solicitor
A County Down teenager has been cleared of a "depraved" sex attack on a woman after it emerged that the woman concerned had a history of self-harm.

Simon Johnston, 19, who has spent more than a year in jail, was found not guilty of attacking Josephine Davenport after the prosecution at Downpatrick Crown Court on Friday offered no evidence.

Mr Johnston, from Crossgar Road in Saintfield, had been charged with aggravated burglary, wounding with intent, causing her grievous bodily harm with intent and indecently assaulting her.

Ms Davenport had claimed she had been physically and sexually attacked in her Crossgar home last July.

However, Judge McFarland directed the jury of four men and eight women to clear Mr Johnston after it emerged her wounds were likely to have been caused by episodes of self-harming.

The judge lifted a ban on reporting Ms Davenport's name because of her "conduct from the date of the alleged offence, her conduct to the police and her conduct up to the trial", adding that he thought it was in the public interest to identify her.

Defence QC Eugene Grant said that a "potentially awful miscarriage of justice has been prevented" but criticised the police for the manner in which they carried out the investigation.

The lawyer told the court that due to the "horrific nature" of the attack, Mr Johnston had been "stigmatised as depraved and violent".

He revealed that during his time on remand in a Young Offenders Centre, he had been "suicidal" and was attacked by other inmates.

Josephine Devenport: Claimed she had been attacked
Josephine Devenport: Claimed she had been attacked

Mr Grant urged the courts to take a review of the Criminal Justice System to ensure "particularly in the case of young people...that they do not have to wait 18 months for their trial".

Prosecution QC Ken McMahon said that it was because the prosecution "always kept evidence under review" and because "of its readiness to accept or receive new evidence" that Mr Johnston was being cleared.

Addressing Mr Johnston, Judge McFarland expressed his "sincere regret" that he had been detained for such a period of time "for a series of crimes that he did not commit".

The judge revealed that he intended to write personally to the detective chief superintendent, the Lord Chief Justice and to the Director of Public Prosecutions concerning the "on-going investigations" in the case.

A whole lot of people thought he did it until today and it will be hard for him to get out and about again
Mr Johnston's father

Outside the court, Mr Johnston's solicitor, Niall Murphy said his client had been charged with the attack "on the word" of Ms Davenport and added that he had not just been cleared on a "technicality".

Mr Murphy also revealed that the handling of the case was under investigation by the Police Ombudsman and that Mr Johnston would be seeking "remedies" for the wrongful charge.

Mr Johnston's grandmother Jesse said the family "were just so happy that it's all over" but added that "it will be very hard to get over this".

His father said Mr Johnston had lost the "best years of his life" as he had spent both his 18th and 19th birthdays in Hydebank Young Offenders Centre.

"A whole lot of people thought he did it until today and it will be hard for him to get out and about again," he said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Yvette Shapiro reports:
"The court heard that the alleged victim, Josephine Davenport, had a history of self-harm."




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