Monday, May 20, 2024

Concern Kenneally retracting evidence brought by defence

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The chair of the Commission of Investigation examining how allegations of abuse carried out by basketball coach Bill Kenneally were handled, has expressed concern that the convicted abuser was retracting matters that were put forward by his defence lawyers when he was sentenced for the first time eight years ago.

Kenneally has been giving evidence over two days at the Commission which is examining the response of authorities including the gardaí, the health board, Basketball Ireland, politicians, and members of the Catholic Clergy to allegations of sexual abuse made against Kenneally from the mid-1980s onwards.

He is serving almost 19 years in prison for the serious sexual abuse of 15 young boys between 1979 and 1990 following two criminal prosecutions. Gardaí believe at least 14 other boys were abused by Bill Kenneally and the case has been described at this Commission as one of the most serious cases of paedophilia discovered in Ireland.

Kenneally’s prosecutions in 2016 and in 2023, heard he met boys through basketball coaching and groomed them by plying them with drink, money and other gifts while subjecting them to very serious sexual abuse.

At the conclusion of today’s hearing, Mr Justice Michael White read a portion of a report by a psychotherapist who gave evidence in Kenneally’s defence at his sentencing hearing in 2016. The judge said he was concerned Kenneally was now resiling from what the psychotherapist had said, but Kenneally said he accepted it.

During his evidence, Kenneally had questioned why it had taken his victims so long to come forward if it was the case that their lives had been ruined. He also claimed that one of the victims had said himself that he wanted to be “part of it”.

He asked if it was a criminal offence to supply alcohol to young boys and girls. He claimed they had exaggerated the amount of money he gave him, and he suggested victims had consented to what he had done.

He repeatedly claimed the Commission and lawyers for the victims were exceeding the Commission’s terms of reference. He also repeatedly attempted to differentiate between the abuse of boys under 15 and anything that had taken place when boys were over that age.

Kenneally’s remarks caused obvious shock and upset amongst victims and their families who were present.

Judge White said Kenneally had attempted to minimise his behaviour in his evidence. He also said Kenneally had treated the Commission as a “bit of a circus” in his evidence this morning and he was “not having it”.

The judge said he was not concerned with the substance of Kenneally’s actions, he was dealing with how the abuse was handled. He also said this went beyond the criminal sphere into child protection issues.

In his report to Kenneally’s first sentencing hearing in 2016, psychotherapist Nicholas Banks, said Kenneally had given the boys inducements such as money, beer and cigarettes but that he now realised that they had endured the abuse to receive those goods.

The judge said mitigating evidence is considered by the trial judge to be authorised by the accused person and a judge at a trial relies on it.

Kenneally told the judge he accepted the portion of the report read to him.

He will be called back after Easter to face further questions from lawyers for An Garda Síochána and the Commission itself.

Earlier, Kenneally and his barrister, Senior Counsel, John Peart had objected to questions about his abuse being put by barrister Barra McGrory, representing seven of the boys who were abused.

Kenneally said he had not been given transcripts of the boys’ evidence to the Commission, which was given in private. He said he and his lawyers should have been given the chance to cross examine them.

Kenneally said he had pleaded guilty in his first prosecution to one charge related to each of the seven complainants in the first prosecution before they turned 15.

To sharp intakes of breath from victims and their families in the public gallery, Kenneally claimed that one of the victims had said himself that he wanted to be “part of it”.

He agreed that he had regularly supplied alcohol to young boys and girls aged 13 and 14 and asked “is that a criminal offence”. He said it was not true that he was “grooming everyone”.

Asked if he gave the young boys alcohol to loosen their inhibitions and be more cooperative with what he intended to do, Kenneally said that “cooperative” insinuated “consensual”, again to the shock of the victims listening.

He was asked if he had taken polaroid photographs of naked boys and shown them to the boys, he said he had not pleaded guilty to that. He said he had given the boys money but said the amount they said he had given them was exaggerated.

Kenneally said the evidence of a boy that he had been shouting at Kenneally to stop during an incident of abuse and was laughing through it, was not true.

Mr McGrory asked Kenneally if he understood that in some cases he had ruined the lives of some boys.

Kenneally said if they were ruined, he didn’t know “why they took 30 years to come forward”.

Asked if he wanted to say anything to Mr McGrory’s clients, Keneally said he had said what he said in court in Waterford and they “got up and walked out”. That was the appropriate time and place, Kenneally said.

Kenneally also complained about “political interference” in his trial. He criticised Tánaiste Mícheál Martin for commenting after a Prime Time programme on his case after his first prosecution in 2016, that the level of abuse on so many boys was “horrific”.

He said the RTÉ programme had made accusations about charges to which he had not pleaded guilty and which had not been pursued by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Justice White pointed out to Kenneally that there was a procedure in the criminal courts where a person pleaded guilty to sample counts and the sentencing took place on the basis of all the facts.

He said he was concerned that Kenneally’s evidence was unfair to victims who were not represented at the Commission.

Kenneally also told the Commission that he did not feel aggrieved by the way he had been dealt with by gardaí in 1987. But he said he felt that if he had been brought to court and sentenced at that stage, the counts against him would have been treated concurrently and he would have got a total sentence of 17 months instead of ten consecutive sentences.

However, he said the functions of An Garda Síochána were different in 1987 to what they are now.

He said their function then was to “reduce the level of crime and disorder”.

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