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Donegal man found not guilty of having sex with child under 17 years of age

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Donegal man found not guilty of having sex with child under 17 years of age

A Donegal man who slept with a 15-year-old girl has been found not guilty of having sexual intercourse with a child under 17 years of age.

The man, who is from west Donegal, denied two charges of having sex with a 15-year-old girl on two dates between August and November 2013.

The man, who is aged in his 20s, said he did not know what age the girl was when they had sex on the two occasions and only found out after they had sex the second time that she was 15.

He told gardaí that the relationship came to an end after he found out she was 15.

Letterkenny Circuit Court heard the girl had consensual unprotected sex with the man on two occasions. 

The matter came to the attention of gardaí when her father reported it and the court heard the girl was reluctant for the prosecution to take place.

The alleged victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said the accused lived just two minutes from her.

He knew her brother and the two started texting each other. They then started going out with each other, she said.

She went to his house and they had sex on two occasions when his parents were away.

She told the court the second time they had sex occurred about a week after the first occasion.

She said no one knew she was meeting him. After the second time he asked her what age she was and when she told him she was 15 they “ended things”.

While they continued to text each other they were not together, she said.

She told the court that she didn't know what age he was but “had a fair idea he was over 20”.

Under cross-examination from defence counsel Colm Smyth (SC) she said:  “I was young at the time and I didn't know what I was doing.”

She said that after telling the accused her age he said it would be “a bad idea to see each other”.

The girl’s mother told the court that the accused and her son had been friendly for two years before he became involved with her daughter.

After finding out what had happened, the mother and the accused arranged to meet and she told him not to have any contact with her daughter or her son.

After she took her daughter's phone off her, the accused gave her another phone and they stayed in contact, she said.

The mother said the accused knew the family well.

When interviewed by gardaí the accused said that he was not in a relationship with the girl, but they started texting each other.

The first time she came to his house they watched DVDs and then kissed. They later went upstairs and had sex.

He told gardaí he had no concerns and did not realise what age she was. He said he thought she was 18, but he admitted he knew she was in school.

The man said he did not know what age the girl’s brother was, but said he knew he was in school.

When asked by gardaí did he know she was 15-years-old, he said he was absolutely positive he didn’t.

He said they were “kind of going out” but it was “nothing serious” and the girl seemed “happy enough”.

When asked in an interview did he have concerns about her age, he said he “never thought about it much”.

When she told him she was 15 he said he was not sure whether to believe her or not.

He said he told her the relationship had to stop because of her age.

Prosecution counsel Patricia McLaughlin (BL) said the girl and the man lived in a tight-knit community and they knew each other very well.

She said the accused knew her entire family and knew her brother very well, which was very significant.

She said she knew her brother was still in school and he knew she was younger than him.

There was an element of secrecy about the relationship, she added.

“It was clear he didn't think she was 18 and he knew from all the surrounding circumstances that she was younger than her brother.”

Defence counsel Colm Smyth said the girl’s brother was the one person who could give the correct evidence about what the accused knew and he was not in court to give evidence.

“There is not one suggestion that he treated the relationship as secretive or covert,” he said.

“There was no evidence brought to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew the girl was under 17 at the time.”

A jury of seven men and five women took just over an hour to return an unanimous verdict of not guilty.