Two men in court in connection with serious child abuse

The accused, who are in their 50s, were remanded in custody at Downpatrick District Court on Monday, after being charged with a catalogue of abuse offences including rape.

Three other men and two woman have also been questioned by police in relation to the allegations, which are described as being of “domestic sexual abuse” in the 1970s and 1980s.

The weekend arrests follow months of enquiries by police, who warned on Monday about the “strong public feeling” likely to surround the case.

Police also confirmed that other parties are being sought in relation to the investigation, which was described in court as a “historic case of crimes relating to the sexual and physical abuse of children.”

The first man, who is a a former part-time RUC reservist, is charged with raping a girl, indecent assault, gross indecency, making threats to kill and having a gun between 1983 and 1986, while the second defendant is accused of rape and a series of child sex and cruelty charges between 1979 and 1986.

During a lengthy bail application for the first defendant, the detective sergeant leading the investigation described the alleged crimes as being of a “wicked nature” and said the statements of the injured parties were the “most horrific” he had ever read.

Opposing bail for the defendant, he said he “feared for the victims.”

He said he had various reasons for opposing bail, including the risk of the man, who has young children, committing further offences, the risk of him fleeing the jurisdiction due to the likelihood of a lengthy period in custody if convicted, and the risk of interference with witnesses.

He said the defendant had been made aware of statements against him by various witnesses during weekend questioning and said police now “fear for the victims.”

“He may obstruct the course of justice,” he claimed.

“There are many lines of enquiry, many witnesses we are speaking to and others we intend to speak to in a number of days.”

The detective said he was also concerned about the alleged use of a firearm to maintain his victims’ silence and confirmed the former reservist had admitted possession of ammunition following a search of his house but claimed this was ammunition from a legal weapon he had held for his own protection after his retirement from the police.

During the bail application it emerged that the defendant and some of the other suspects will be accused of firing shots or threatening to use firearms to frighten the children into silence.

A barrister seeking bail described the defendant as a “family man” and said being held in custody would have an impact on his children and wife, who was in court for the hearing.

District Judge Mervyn Bates accepted there was a “general feeling of abhorrence of this type of offence” but said it was not the court’s job to remand in custody to prevent public disorder.

However, he said he would deny bail until Social Services carry out a review of the defendant’s family situation.

The second man did not seek bail, and an investigating police officer told the court he had denied any involvement in offences of a sexual nature while being questioned over the weekend.

Both defendants will reappear in court by video link next month.