Everyone's a loser when an unhappy family goes to war
It wasn't just John Brown's good name in the dock at his sex abuse trial, Eilis O'Hanlon says. It was his sister's reputation too
Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30
It was arguably the most extraordinary moment of an already extraordinary Presidential campaign, as a visibly upset Dana Rosemary Scallon read out a prepared statement during the live Prime Time debate claiming that "vile and malicious" lies were being spread against her family and that she would leave "no stone unturned" in her quest to prove who was responsible and that it was untrue.
Presenter Miriam O'Callaghan, baffled, tried to prise more details from the former MEP, but Dana would say no more. Two weeks later, her second bid for the Aras, already on shaky ground, netted her less than three per cent of first preference votes.
It soon transpired that the reason for Dana's discomposure was that she had been informed before the show that allegations about her brother sexually abusing a child some years previously were about to be made public. John Brown, a member of Dana's election team at the time, was subsequently charged with indecent assault against two girls, now aged 47 and 53, at various addresses in Northern Ireland and England during the 1970s.
One of the complainants also lodged defamation proceedings against Dana in the High Court in Dublin.
For the past three weeks the story behind this bizarre political drama has been under the microscope once more at Harrow Crown Court in London, where 60-year- old John Brown was standing trial on the historic abuse charges. On Friday, after almost 12 hours of deliberation, the jury found Brown not guilty on all counts, accepting the words of defence counsel Martin Boyer that his client was an innocent man whose testimony had been "consistent throughout".
If Dana was not such a famous name, the verdict would barely have made the headlines, but the fact that the former Eurovision Song Contest winner turned family-values politician had been accused of covering up the alleged abuse by her brother guaranteed that this was no ordinary trial. Brown was not the only person in the dock. So, in effect, was Dana, who had been accused by prosecutor Claire Howells of being involved in a conspiracy to cover up the abuse in the 1970s to protect her career and family name and of having continued the lie to the present day.
Had Brown been found guilty, the damage to the one- time Connacht-Ulster MEP's reputation would have been irreparable. Among the more sensational claims which were made against Dana included the story that she had, on being told that Brown had allegedly put his hand inside the young girl's underwear, arranged for him to have treatment with a priest and that she had subsequently told the family in question that Brown was now "cured".
"John said that he had three things to do to stop his urges," the mother of the girl at the centre of this case testified. "He had to eat well, sleep well and watch for the signs and as long as he did that he was fine." John Brown was also accused of confessing his guilt to the girl's father in a telephone conversation.
Dana broke down in tears as she gave evidence about what she called the "completely ridiculous" allegations against her brother. She denied ever knowing about them or ever speaking to anyone else about them, much less of covering them up. She said she had had little contact with the complainant when she was a little girl, despite what was being said about her being the girl's "spiritual counsellor", and said that the priest whose help she allegedly sought, named as Father Brown, had actually died 10 years earlier.
Both she and her brother claimed that the allegations of abuse emerged only as a result of a bitter family feud over ownership of a US media production company.
He told the court in England that he'd been answering questions in 2008 at a pre court deposition in Iowa, at which Dana was also present, when a break was called. When the court resumed, Brown says the allegation was first put to him and he was "dumbstruck… I was absolutely astonished and denied it." He believes that "they made malicious allegations against me to destroy my credibility, so effectively I was null and void as a witness."
Brown's defence counsel, Martyn Bowyer, made a further claim while cross-examining one of the alleged victims: "I'm suggesting to you... the only reason you came to the police in this country is you have very little option to do otherwise as, because of all of this publicity, the defamation claim is never going to succeed in the absence of a criminal conviction in the UK."
The woman, who has not been named in press reports of the recent trial, but whose identity has been public knowledge for some years, vigorously denied going to such elaborate lengths, adding: "It seems like an awful lot of planning for something that is so hurtful." What impact this will have on the defamation case remains to be seen.
What is clear is that the case has split Dana's family. It seems to be a testament to Tolstoy's famous dictum that "all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
The trial brief filed by Dana's lawyers in 2008 in advance of the US copyright case which the Catholic singer and her brother both believe to lie at the heart of these allegations of abuse, is available to view online, and makes for sad reading. This was clearly a close and loving family. The record company they jointly owned was never subject to any written agreement, because they all clearly trusted one another to do the right thing.
It was an archetypal family business. Dana's recordings at the time often featured her brother-in-law, Father Kevin Scallon, and were produced by her brother, Gerald. That the family ran their business this way made it difficult legally to prove who owned what when mounting corporate debts put a strain on their various relationships - that matter was eventually settled with a private out of court settlement - but it is a striking example of how they once felt about one another.
Whether the rifts can ever be healed is nobody's affair but their own, but for John Brown what matters is that he has been vindicated: "I came here an innocent man, I leave here an innocent man." He strongly believes that the reason these allegations were widely reported back in 2011, when he was involved in his sister's doomed bid for the Aras, was in order to "derail her presidential campaign".
In truth, she was never going to top the poll, but even losing candidates have a right to their good name. Dana's has now been vindicated too.