JUDGEMENT was reserved in a civil action brought by a father and three sons against a fellow member of the Jehovah's Witnesses which concluded before Judge Alice Doyle at Wexford Circuit Court last week.
William O'Connor, of Corcoran's Lane, Irishtown, New Ross, and sons Michael, John and Gerard O'Connor, all of the same address, brought a defamation case against Adam Ballard, with an address of Clonmore, Clareen, Birr, Co. Offaly.
The O'Connors' Counsel, Susan Burke, said it was claimed that Adam Ballard spoke of them in a defamatory way, clearly portraying them as people to be held in contempt, who had committed the extremely serious offence of rape.
Ballard's words were extremely harmful and hurtful and totally without foundation, she said.
Ms Burke said that Mr. Ballard's 'calculated' words had exposed the O'Connors to odium, ridicule and contempt.
Ms Burke said that during a meeting in New Ross Assembly Hall attended by William O'Connor, Tony Walsh and Oliver Hegarty, both Elders in the New Ross Community, and Adam Ballard, it was alleged by Mr. Ballard that William O'Connor, and his three sons, Michael, Gerry and John, repeatedly raped him during 1980.
'You came into the caravan in Navan and raped me at the Assembly. It happened again in McMurrough several times. You also used to go down to the woods with four others, light a fire, dance around it with paint on your faces and rape me again.'
Evidence had earlier been given in the civil action by Sergt. Brendan Kelly, William O'Connor, Michael, John and Gerard O'Connor, and Tony Walsh, an Elder in the Jehovah Witnesses Community in New Ross.
In evidence on Wednesday last, Adam Ballard told the court he came to live in New Ross when his father took up work on a farm in 1979. Very soon afterwards they met William O'Connor who had helped his father to find a house. Adam Ballard said he was nine to ten years of age at that time and that his parents were very active in the Jehovah's Witnesses Community.
Regarding the allegation, Mr. Ballard said that over a period of time there was a friendliness developing with William O'Connor. Then, from the age of eleven, things started happening.
Mr. Ballard said that at the meeting in New Ross Assembly Hall he said that William O'Connor, and his sons Michael, Gerry and John, repeatedly raped him during 1980.
Replying to his counsel, Conor O'Doherty, Ballard said that they would go down to the woods and that sometimes there would be a fire lighting. There were other people there in the forest, as well as William O'Connor.
'Firstly there was sexual molestation. As time went by there were more sexual matters. These would have happened over a period of four years,' he said.
Ballard also told Mr. O'Doherty that regarding John and Gerard O'Connor's involvement, he said at the meeting they
– Adam Ballard would not have been involved, except on the final occasion in Navan, but they would have been present on other occasions when the abuse happened.
However, Ms Burke, Counsel for the O'Connors, said this particular allegation regarding things happening over a period of four years was not put to the plaintiffs, John and Gerard O'Connor.
Mr. O'Doherty, however, said that it's relevant in the issue of qualified privilege.
At this stage Judge Doyle directed that there be no contact between any side in this case, after Mr. O'Doherty had alleged that Mr. Ballard had been approached outside the court by one of the plaintiffs.
'I wont stand for it. I will call on this case again shortly to consider the matters introduced at this stage,' said the Judge.
Ms Burke suggested to the court that Mr. O'Doherty should not be afforded an opportunity to mend his hand and go back over matters again and over a period of time..
Mr. O'Doherty said justification is not pleaded but the specifics are of interest to the court..
Ms Burke suggested that justification does not come into it. The plaintiffs have made an absolute denial of any of the allegations made at the meeting.
'I ask Mr. O'Doherty to confine himself to what was said at the meeting as the allegations he is now introducing are in addition to what was said at the meeting. He should not be afforded the opportunity to have the plaintiffs go back into the witness box to have a litany of allegations put to them,' said Ms. Burke.
Judge Doyle told Mr. O'Doherty to confine himself to what had been said at the meeting.
Regarding the Navan incident, Mr. Ballard said that John and Gerard O'Connor were there, while William O'Connor was involved later in his life.
Mr. Ballard also said that he was recommended to attend Dr. Jonathan Egan at the HSE in or around Jan 7, 2003, having gone through a very difficult time, while he had also spoken in a general way to a Garda in Clareen, basically to get advice.
Later he approached Tony Walsh and attended an arranged meeting in New Ross where Oliver Hegarty also attended along with William O'Connor. He had discussed the matter with Tony Walsh and he said he wanted to do it the Jehovah Witnesses way. At the meeting he ( Ballard) said he was extremely nervous. During the course of the meeting William O'Connor became extremely aggressive, he said.
Ballard said that basically he wanted an apology which he did not achieve.
However Ms Burke told the witness, that he was not the only person in this with rights. This was not done in private as other people outside the Kingdom Hall knew about this. 'Because of your faith you felt you were entitled to make these serious allegations and destroy the reputations of these people and cause distress to their family.'
Oliver Hegarty told the court that he was an appointed Elder in the New Ross Community. He gave details of having spoken with Tony Walsh who had told him of a problem, as a result of which they had to meet with William O'Connor. He said that while he attended the meeting, their investigation also took them to Tuam regarding an allegation to see if there was a connection.
He said they did their best to check out as many people as they could to find out if anything was going on and that they did everything they could.
Mr. Hegarty also told the court that Adam Ballard was obliged to do what he did from two points, one as a personal confrontation with a member of the community and secondly in accordance with the Bible. He had an obligation to report serious sin to the congregation, said Mr. Hegarty.
He said that at the meeting William O'Connor denied the allegations and that there was a heated exchange before the meeting closed.
Ms Burke asked the witness if the decision to go to Tuam to speak to people about another case and see if the O'Connors were involved in this as well suggested a witchhunt.
The witness replied 'I don't know what it was'.
Ms Burke suggested to tMr. Hegarty that he had no idea what he was dealing with and that himself and Mr. Walsh were totally out of their depth. ' You may have thought this was a case of serious sin but it was also an allegation of a very serious criminal offence'.
'This was a matter of the utmost gravity and you were looking for clues. Did common sense not say to you to stand back and hold up your hands and say I'm totally out of my depth?' asked Ms Burke.
Mr. Hegarty responded that he did not, and that serious sin has to be reported.
Judge Doyle will deliver judgement at Kilkenny Circuit Court today (Wednesday).