A 25-year-old man accused of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl has been found not guilty.
The offence was alleged to have happened in the defendant’s car when he was 18 on 25th October 2003 in a south County Donegal car park. He admitted at Donegal Circvuit Court this week that he had sex with the girl, but said before the jury of seven women and five men that he believed she was 18 or 19 at the time.
The prosecution said it was not suggested the defendant coerced the girl into sex. The offence was that the girl at the time was too young to be legally capable of consenting to sex.
Judge John O’Hagan said that in recent years, the Supreme Court ruled that a mistake about the age of a young person could be raised by the defence.
If the jury concluded from the evidence that there was a mistake, then the defendant should be given the benefit of the doubt, he said. But if they rejected it, then they must convict.
The judge recalled the defence case that the girl was not refused admission by pub bouncers, and she bought drink at the bars.
He mentioned that the mother of the victim was called in evidence to prove her daughter’s age. He added: “I can only say it as a matter of comment that the mother was not asked in evidence how her daughter looked at the age of 13.”
Prosecution counsel Eileen O’Leary told the jury in her summary that the girl, at 13, was significantly under the legal age. She maintained the defendant definitely knew her age, as he was going out with a girl of 15 and he would have known she was younger.
Defence counsel Hugo Hynes said that the law gave the defendant allowance for a genuine mistake and he believed the girl was older than him.
The jury took 29 minutes to make up its mind.
In the past 18 months five other men were convicted of under-age sex with the girl. Two were given suspended sentences. Three were sentenced to jail terms.