Ex-Shame Fein councillor admitted child cruelty.
A DEFIANT Bridge Meehan left court with a suspended jail term yesterday for shocking cruelty to her 10-year-old stepdaughter. The former Shame Fein councillor, who knocked the young child unconscious and forced her to sleep in a wet bed, was allowed to walk free on the basis of her age, guilty pleas and low risk to the public.
The 66-year-old had admitted a charge of cruelty and two assaults against Mary Meehan more than 30 years ago while her father, North Belfast IRA chief Martin Meehan, was in prison. The former Newtownabbey councillor originally also faced seven charges of sexually abusing her stepdaughter but they were not proceeded with and were “left on the books”. Belfast Crown Court heard that at the time of the offences between July 1979 and October the following year, an eight-month pregnant Meehan had been left to look after the IRA leader’s three children. Judge Gordon Kerr told Meehan that given her clear record, the “circumstances in which she found herself” and the time taken over the case, “considerable discounts” in her sentence were proper. Suspending the nine-month jail term for two years, the judge said : “The defendant is 66 years of age. The offences were over 30 years ago. There is no evidence she presents any danger to children or anyone else. “There is a low risk of her offending. I do not consider it necessary that she should serve these sentences immediately and think it is proper to suspend them.”
The judge had earlier said that while a remorseful Meehan had “expressed shame at her loss of control”, reports indicated that she “has no empathy or emotional concern” for Mary and the position she found her self in as a youngster, with one parent dead and the other missing. The prosecution proceeded on the basis of an agreed set of facts about her ill-treatment and neglect of Mary and the assaults on her. The first charge of assault related to an incident when Mary was tidying up, but apparently not quickly enough for Meehan, who hit her over the head with a bag containing a glass bottle and knocked her unconscious. Her wound later required stiches. The second assault referred to the youngster being hit by a brush or a shoe which had been thrown at her. The prosecution also told the court how Mary suffered from instances of bed wetting but that her stepmother “forced her to sleep on the wet sheets”. On another ooccasion, after being accused of smoking by Meehan, the 10-year-old was forced to smoke cigarettes by way of punishment or deterrence. Mary was eventually rescued by social services who placed her into care in October 1980. A medical examination at the time revealed 20 bruises sustained while being looked after by Meehan.
The offences were committed while she was the girlfriend of Martin Meehan, who was on remand in prison on IRA kidnapping charges for which he was eventually jailed for 12 years. Mr Meehan, who died in 2007, was the first person to be convicted of membership of the Provisional IRA (PIRA). Bridge Meehan herself went on to be elected as Newtownabbey’s first Sinn Fein councillor in 2001, being reelected in 2005. She was suspended after the allegations of abuse first surfaced in February 2009. Karen Quinlivan QC, defending, said the offences were committed against a background of widespread disapproval of her relationship with Martin Meehan. This resentment came not only from his family but also her own. A remorseful Meehan, she said, had been left to care for three young children “quite abruptly” filling the shies of their mother who had died from cancer. Ms Quinlivan said while it was a serious matter, the level of physical abuse was “at the lower end of the scale” and Meehan had been widely criticised in the media and her own community. Outside the court, Kevin Meehan read a statement on behalf of his sister Mary, in which she said that the crimes of her former stepmother had finally caught up with her. She said BBridge Meehan had terrorised and brutalised her as a youngster and displayed nothing but callous disregard for what happened, rejecting any suggestion that she had shown any regreat. Meehan, the statement said, had ddemonized her through a tangled web of lies and deceit despite her crimes being exposed by her own guilty pleas. However, while Mary said that the court case could help to bring closure to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepmother, the 66-year-old had yet to offer her any apology. Meehan, for her part, would only tell reporters as she left the court : “No comment.”
With many thanks to : Allison Morris, The Irish News.
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