The 2006 conviction of Carmelite Father Mark Paterson for sexual assault was overturned last Thursday in Edinburgh’s High Court. Father Paterson, 55, had been the Catholic Chaplain of the University of Aberdeen. After his conviction, his priestly faculties were suspended.
The university’s Catholic Society maintained that there had been a gross miscarriage of justice. Father Paterson appealed his conviction on the grounds that he did not receive a fair trial, due to the negligence of his solictor and the advocate who had represented him. For example, three important witnesses had not been called to give their testimony in Father Paterson’s defense. Only at this week’s appeal were two of the witnesses allowed to testify. The third witness had died. However, a fourth witness had emerged to give dramatic, even explosive evidence on Father Paterson’s behalf.
The court heard testimony from Dr. Alan Fimister, a graduate of Aberdeen University, that the complainant, a non-student in her late thirties, blamed Father Paterson for the sudden removal of his elderly assistant, Father Kelly, with whom the complainant had enjoyed a close, if occasionally volatile, relationship. Dr. Fimister testified that the complainant believed that Father Paterson’s departure from Aberdeen University would lead to Father Kelly’s return.
The second Aberdeen witness, Ms. Emma Williams testified that she had heard the complainant telling obviously false nasty sex-themed stories about Father Paterson and others. Ms. Williams characterized the complainant’s attitude towards Father Paterson as “vicious.” She too had perceived that the complainant believed Father Kelly’s return would follow Father Paterson’s removal.
However, the most dramatic evidence was given by Mrs. Mary McIlroy of Dunbarton. The sole witness to the alleged sexual assault was believed at the time of the trial to be the complainant’s mentally disabled sister Rosie. Dr. Fimister and Ms. Williams both testified that the complainant, who dominated and even spoke for Rosie, claimed Rosie was her sister. Mrs. McIlroy testified that Rosie was in fact her own daughter Bernadette.
Bernadette has severe learning disabilities and was dependent on her family’s care before she was befriended by the complainant. Mrs. McIlroy testified that the complainant had exerted great influence over Bernadette to the extent of convincing her to leave first her family and then her hometown with her. Mrs. McIlroy had no clue as to her daughter’s location until after she heard of her involvement in Father Paterson’s trial. She testified that the biographical details Rosie/Bernadette told the police were fictional.
Mrs. McIlroy stated that she was devastated by her daughter’s disappearance. After she described tasks she had done for Bernadette, she was asked if she had been her daughter’s “carer,” (a British term denoting someone paid to care for a disabled person). Taken aback, Mrs. McIlroy replied, “No, I was not her carer. I am her mum.” She has not seen Bernadette for over fifteen years.
The Crown conceded the case on Thursday morning, and the court squashed the conviction. Afterwards Father Paterson said he was delighted that his eight year ordeal was over: “I’m over the moon!”