A NUN facing child sex abuse charges broke down in tears as a judge found her not guilty of child sex offences.
In the first case of its kind before the Irish courts, Sr Mary Theresa Grogan (62), also known as Sr Peter, of Laytown, Co Meath, faced 63 counts of indecent assault against seven girls at a Midlands school in the 1970s.
The offences were alleged to have taken place in a classroom and a library at a school in the Midlands between 1973 and 1977.
But after five days of legal argument without the jury, Judge Donagh McDonagh yesterday called back the seven women and five men on the panel to instruct them to issue verdicts of 'not guilty' on all charges.
The nun threw her head into her hands and burst into tears at the back of the court after the judge delivered his ruling.
She then hugged members of her legal team, including senior counsel Caroline Biggs.
One of the women in the case collapsed at the back of the court.
Two other women had to be helped from the room by relatives.
A fourth complainant remained in the court but sobbed loudly as Judge McDonagh gave his ruling.
Judge McDonagh had ruled that the inconsistency of some of the evidence given by the complainants – made unsound by the passage of time – had made the trial unsafe.
Seven complainants had given evidence before the case was stopped a week ago to allow for legal arguments by the defence.
Some of them had claimed in court that the nun had told classmates to 'Teigh a chodladh" – Irish for 'go to sleep' – before calling them to up her desk at the front of the class where she indecently assaulted them.
Judge McDonagh said the claims had not been made in garda statements but "emerged mysteriously in evidence in court".
He said evidence given by some witnesses was "weak in certain aspects and tenuous in others".
The judge said he was struck that at no time did any of the complainants mention any events when they were in third class like a school nativity play.
"The passage of time has seriously affected the memories of the complainants," Judge McDonagh said.
Judge McDonagh also addressed issues raised by the defence, which alleged the complainants had colluded in their statements.
He said it was "impossible to believe events of such significance in these ladies' lives were not the subject of conversation".
Judge McDonagh went on: "I would hesitate to use the term collusion but there is a risk of cross-contamination when the events happened so long ago."
He said the "passage of time" had seriously affected the memories of the complainants and, quoting case law, said that "time can do strange things to people's memories of events."
Judge McDonagh said his decision was not easily arrived at but he had gone through hundreds of pages of legal arguments involving 20 previous cases.
He said in the circumstances he could not allow the case to proceed any further, before calling the jury back into the courtroom to inform them of his decision.
Several complainants cried as they left the hearing at Sligo Circuit Court.
The case had been moved there from the Midlands after a previous legal case. As she left the court, Sr Grogan declined to comment.
But in a statement, the Sisters of Mercy said: "Sr Grogan has always denied these charges and asserted her innocence throughout the period of seven years since these allegations were first made against her.
"This criminal trial has been very difficult for every-one involved," the statement added.