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Victim of wrongful conviction in sex case to seek €1m damages

A MAN whose conviction for sexually assaulting a young girl has been declared a miscarriage of justice is expected to seek up to €1m in compensation from the State.

Michael Feichin Hannon (34) said his family had lived with a decade of "stigma" following his wrongful conviction for molesting a 10-year-old.

The Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) yesterday declared the conviction a miscarriage of justice after the 'victim' in the case admitted she had made the whole thing up. Una Hardester invented the claims in 1997 because her family was involved in a Connemara land dispute with relatives of Mr Hannon.

Mr Hannon received a suspended four-year prison sentence as a result of those claims in 1999. However, Ms Hardester, who is now 21 and lives in the US, admitted to gardai eight years later she had made up the allegations. It emerged yesterday that she decided to come clean after "finding God".

The young woman is the daughter of American actor Crofton Hardester, who appeared in Steven Spielberg's World War II epic 'Saving Private Ryan', RTE soap 'Fair City' and 1980s TV series 'The A-Team'.

Speaking last night, Mr Hannon said he was still "upset and angry" about his conviction.

"But at least she had the good sense to come back and rectify what she did wrong and I suppose I have to be thankful for that," he said.

Upset

Mr Hannon also said he was "quite upset" that the DPP had opposed his application for a miscarriage of justice certificate. "I never asked for any of this to begin with. I couldn't understand why they just couldn't just issue me with my certificate," he said.

Mr Hannon said no-one in authority had ever apologised to him. "No state agency or department has ever apologised or expressed regret for what happened to me," he said.

He added that he would now try to put his life back together.

"It's not something that's going to go away from me now over time. This is always going to be in my head. I'm never going to forget this," he said.

The CCA quashed the conviction last February, but it was only declared a miscarriage of justice yesterday following an application from lawyers representing Mr Hannon. The application had been opposed by the DPP which argued there was no wrongdoing by the State or any of its agents.

Granting the certificate yesterday, the three-judge court described the case as "alarming and disturbing" and said an entirely innocent man was convicted by a jury. The court said Mr Hannon, a married father of one, was entitled to have his good name restored.

Informed legal sources said Mr Hannon, of Attymon, Athenry, Co Galway, could now expect to receive anything up to €1m in compensation from the State.

Any compensation payout would be much less than the €4.7m paid to wrongly imprisoned Donegal publican Frank Short as Mr Hannon did not spend any time behind bars.

Mr Hannon received his suspended sentence at Galway Circuit Court in 1999. He had strenuously denied allegations by Ms Hardester that he had sexually assaulted her near her home at Cleggan, outside Clifden, Co Galway, in January 1997.

Ms Hardester moved to Connecticut in the US a short time later after her family put their home on the market. However, she briefly returned to Ireland in 2006 and admitted to gardai that her complaints were completely fabricated and motivated by "revenge and misplaced loyalty to my family".

Ms Hardester told gardai she was never coerced or coached by anyone into making the allegation.