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Tyrone boss Harte gives reference for sex attacker

TYRONE GAA manager Mickey Harte has provided a character reference for a man who admits sexually assaulting a woman and ejecting her from a van when she was half-naked.

Ronan McCusker (27), from Ballygillen Road in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the 47-year-old woman after he had met her in a bar. He also pleaded guilty to taking his father's van without his authority, driving while disqualified and driving without insurance. Those offences also happened on June 28, 2010.

Defence barrister Brian McCartney told a judge the defendant "comes from a highly regarded family in mid-Ulster who are widely known within the GAA".

"The families involved have known each other for generations, they go to the same church, to the same parish functions, they cheer on the same teams, they all know each other," he said.

Mr McCartney then handed in a reference on behalf of McCusker from Mickey Harte, the father of Michaela McAreavey, who was murdered in Mauritius in January 2011.

"This is a man who is one of the most successful managers in GAA history and this is a man who is no stranger to sorrow and to terrible tragedy," said Mr McCartney.

"Yet because of his knowledge of this young man and of his family, he has submitted a character reference."

Mr McCartney said McCusker had consumed "in the region of 30 units of alcohol" before the incidents.

Judge Piers Grant at Derry Crown Court had heard that the victim was found lying semi-naked on the side of the Ballymulligan Road near Magherafelt by two men. The court heard both the defendant and the woman had consumed a large amount of alcohol following a Cemetery Sunday service.

"She was then physically ejected from the van and left in a state of nakedness only by to be found by two men, therefore there is also a degree of humiliation involved in this case," the prosecution barrister said.

The court heard she would continue to be under the care of a consultant psychologist for several more months.

Judge Grant adjourned sentencing until Thursday and remanded McCusker in custody until then.

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