James Thomas Catney avoids jail for child sex assault

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Belfast Crown Court heard that Catney now 'lived the life of a recluse'

A man whose family once owned one of Belfast's landmark pubs has avoided prison after admitting to sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl.

James Thomas Catney, 67, was told by a judge that the custody threshold had been passed in his case.

But there were "highly exceptional circumstances", the judge added, that allowed him to suspend a three-year jail sentence for three years.

Catney was placed on the sex offenders' register for the rest of his life.

He was also made the subject of sexual offenders prevention order.

'Charges left on books'

Belfast Crown Court heard that Catney, whose family once owned the Kitchen Bar in Belfast city centre, had previously denied a total of 20 offences - 10 counts of gross indecency and 10 counts of indecent assault.

A prosecutor said that in March this year he pleaded guilty to three counts of gross indecency and three of indecent assault.

The offences he admitted took place in the early 1990s, when he was aged between 41 and 44 and the girl between eight and 11 years old.

The remaining 14 charges were to be "left on the books".

The charges related to the indecent touching of the girl by Catney when he attended a house and where alcohol was consumed.

The gross indecency charges were in relation to Catney getting the victim to indecently touch him, the court heard.

'Lives a reclusive life'

"It is accepted by the prosecution that the guilty pleas were of assistance to the Crown as there were a number of evidential difficulties and important witnesses were not prepared to come to court for the trial of these matters," said the prosecutor.

The judge was told that Catney, from an address in south Belfast, had a conviction for indecent exposure, as well as a number of convictions for dishonesty offences.

A defence barrister said Catney has a medical condition brought about by his abuse of alcohol and was tended to by carers twice a day.

Catney now "lived the life of a recluse", the barrister added, and did not go out alone after since breaking a leg in a fall at home.

She said that a suspension of the prison sentence was warranted because of Catney's health and mobility issues, and that probation services had assessed there to be a low likelihood of his reoffending.