Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 16:31 UK

Priest child abuse trial begins

Father Eugene Lewis
Father Lewis denies the charges against him

A Catholic priest has gone on trial accused of indecently assaulting three young sisters from County Fermanagh.

Father Eugene Lewis, who is a member of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, denied 11 charges of assault between 1963 and 1973 at Omagh Crown Court.

The offences span a 10-year period when Father Lewis lived at the White Fathers College in Blacklion, County Cavan.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place when he visited the family at their home in County Fermanagh.

The victims said the abuse began when they were as young as seven.

The sisters said Father Lewis would often visit the family when it was their bath time or bedtime.

A number of the charges relate to claims that he touched them when they sat on his lap in their night clothes, and others that he abused them while telling bedtime stories in the dark.

One of them will also give evidence that he raped her, but as the alleged offence took place in Dublin he cannot be tried for that in a Northern Ireland court.

Omagh courthouse
The trial is being heard at Omagh Crown Court

Father Lewis, is now aged 75 and his address was given as the Cypress Grove House, Templeogue, Dublin where the Missionaries of Africa is based.

He was ordained in 1958 and after his time at the college in Blacklion between 1960 and 1970, he went to Dublin and then served on missions overseas.

More recently he has worked in west Belfast and as a parish priest in Dunmurry.

When interviewed by the police, Father Lewis said he never touched the children, that the claims were a total fabrication and that he was the victim of a "family lynching mob".

The trial is expected to last several weeks.

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