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Nora Wall miscarriage of justice confirmed

Added on December 17, 2005

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17/12/2005

The prosecution of a former nun for rape in a case involving evidence from a witness known to be unreliable should not have been brought, a judge has said.

The Court of Criminal Appeal earlier this month declared a miscarriage of justice in relation to the wrongful conviction of Nora Wall for the rape and indecent assault of a 10-year-old girl in a care home in Waterford.

The three judges who yesterday gave reasons for their decision also said there had been an "unfortunate breakdown in communications or systems failure" between the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chief State Solicitor, the Garda S?och?na and prosecuting counsel. This constituted "a serious defect in the administration of justice brought about however unintentionally in this instance by the agents of the State".

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said the prosecution which took place and involved the tendering of corroborative evidence by a witness known to be unreliable should not have been brought.

Ms Wall, formerly Sr Dominic, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment six years ago.

Mr Justice Kearns said newly discovered facts showed there had been a miscarriage of justice. These included a crucial witness at Ms Wall's trial, Patricia Phelan, who admitted to garda? and another nun that she had lied about having witnessed Ms Wall hold down a young girl while a man raped her.

The proceedings arose after the June 1999 convictions of Ms Wall and Paul McCabe were overturned a month later by the Court of Criminal Appeal with no opposition from the DPP. Both had been convicted of raping Regina Walsh between January 1988 and December 1989, when she was 10, and of an indecent assault charge. Mr McCabe was jailed for 12 years and Ms Wall for life.

Mr Justice Kearns said the evidence in the Wall case went "to the point where it is now established that Patricia Phelan, on January 10th, 1997, made a statement to the Garda S?och?na which was untrue and at the trial gave entirely fabricated evidence, in circumstances which give rise to a compelling inference of collusion between her and the complainant, resulting in the fabrication of evidence which in the judgment of this court would render it unsafe to leave any of the evidence of either girl to a jury."

The case was almost equally noteworthy for the significant failures of communication between the various offices and persons concerned in the prosecution.

Mr Justice Kearns said it was now accepted by the DPP that there was significant non-disclosure, including the information that Regina Walsh had made but not pursued an allegation of rape in England and the non-disclosure of her material psychiatric history.

Ms Wall was further prejudiced by evidence that Ms Walsh had recalled alleged episodes of rape by reference to flashbacks but there was no scientific evidence adduced to explain the phenomenon of flashbacks.

In acceding to Ms Wall's application, the court did not find it necessary to distinguish in terms of gravity between the variously newly discovered facts, which it was satisfied showed there had been a miscarriage of justice.

The court therefore granted the certificate sought.


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