South Scotland

Ex-Whithorn community chief Francis O'Neill jailed for child rape

The former chairman of a community council in south west Scotland has been jailed on child rape and abuse charges dating back about 30 years.

Francis O'Neill, 61, of Whithorn, was found guilty by a jury.

A court heard how he raped one girl when she was aged seven and sexually abused a nine-year-old boy.

O'Neill had claimed his accusers were lying but he was found guilty of the offences and was jailed at the High Court in Edinburgh for seven years.

Judge Lady Wise said the woman, now aged 39, had given a "compelling account" of what had happened to her.

"She trusted you, as an adult, and didn't know the acts you committed were wrong," said the judge.

O'Neill's male victim had been bribed with money and cigarettes to keep silent, the court heard.

'Degree of cunning'

At the time - between 1979 and 1985 - O'Neill had been married with a child of his own and had taken advantage of other children playing in the area.

The abuse had been carried out with a degree of cunning, said Lady Wise.

O'Neill claimed his accusers were lying but a jury found him guilty of rape, sodomy, making the rape victim perform indecent acts and making sexual remarks to another 15-year-old girl.

Defence advocate Simon Gilbride said his client continued to protest his innocence.

He said after O'Neill had been forced to quit his job he had worked for the Citizens' Advice Bureau and for a dog rescue service.

He had also been president of the Whithorn District Community Council until being forced to resign.

Mr Gilbride said O'Neill suffered from "a myriad of physical complaints" angina, diabetes and breathing difficulties - all of which would make his time in prison more difficult.

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