Briege Meehan admits child cruelty and assault

Briege Meehan Briege Meehan pleaded guilty to child cruelty and assault occasioning actual bodily harm

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A former Sinn Fein councillor who was accused of abusing her stepdaughter 34 years ago has pleaded guilty to charges of child cruelty and assault.

Briege Meehan, from Elmfield Street in Belfast, was due to stand trial on Tuesday, charged with child cruelty and seven counts of sexual abuse.

After her guilty plea, the seven sexual abuse charges she faced were "left on the books" and not proceeded with.

Meehan is the widow of the prominent republican, Martin Meehan.

In 2001, she was elected as the first Sinn Fein member of Newtownabbey Borough Council in County Antrim.

However, she was suspended by the party after she was interviewed by police about allegations made by her stepdaughter, Mary, in February 2009.

'Unnecessary suffering'

The offences were alleged to have occurred between July 1979 and October 1980.

Before the jury could be called to hear the case at Belfast Crown Court on Tuesday, a prosecution lawyer successfully applied to amend the indictment by adding two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The lawyer said these offences were committed over the same 15-month period, from July 1979 and October the following year.

One alleged that Briege Meehan struck her stepdaughter on the head with a bottle, while another accused her of injuring her either with a brush shaft or a shoe.

A defence lawyer asked for the cruelty charge, that she wilfully assaulted and ill-treated her stepdaughter in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering or injury to health, and the two additional charges of assault be put to her client.

When asked for her pleas to theses charges, Meehan replied: "I plead guilty."

Warning

The prosecution lawyer told the court that he had consulted at length not only with the DPP, but also "with the victim".

He added that in the circumstances of the three guilty pleas, there "was no need for a trial" on the first seven counts of sex abuse and that they be 'left on the books'.

Meehan was released on continuing bail before sentencing next month.

However, the judge warned her that she should not take her release as an "indication of the sentence to be passed".

The offences were committed while she was the then girlfriend of Martin Meehan, while he was on remand in prison on IRA kidnapping charges.

'Devastating'

Mr Meehan, who died in 2007, was the first person to be convicted of membership of the Provisional IRA.

He later also became a Sinn Fein councillor.

Later in a statement, her stepdaughter said the three guilty pleas were a vindication, silencing those who accused her of being a fantasist.

The statement also said that she hoped they would now bring closure to what had been a devastating part of her life.

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