A 22-year-old woman living in the U.S. retracted a statement she made against a neighbor in Co. Galway 12 years ago claiming he sexually assaulted her.
Una Hardester was 10 when she alleged that her neighbor, Michael Feichin Hannon, sexually assaulted her in a field near her home in Aughrismore, Cleggan, Co. Galway in 1997.
Hannon, now 34, was found guilty by a jury and received a four-year suspended sentence.
Hardester, who has been living in the U.S. since the incident, is unlikely to face prosecution in Ireland. Sources in the Gardai (Irish police) say that Hardester would not be asked to return to Ireland to answer for her wrongdoings more than a dozen years ago.
When she returned to Ireland to confess that she had made false allegations against Hannon, Hardester told local media that she expected to be arrested and charged. She said she would return voluntarily to Ireland if asked to do so by the Gardai.
Hardester said her motivation for making the allegations was “revenge and misplaced loyalty to my family,” and she now wanted to tell the truth so Hannon’s name could be cleared.
“I don’t even remember that much about it, so I have no explanation for why I did it … it is a guilt I have to live with for the rest of my life,” she said.
Last week Hannon had his conviction declared a miscarriage of justice by the Court of Criminal Appeal. The court stated that Hannon was entitled to have his good name restored and that the case was “alarming and disturbing.” Hannon is now entitled to seek compensation from the Irish state.
There was a history of arguments between the Hardesters and the Hannons over property. Police had been called to the Hardester house on several occasions to deal with disputes between both families.
A few days before the incident Hardester had been in court with her father, Crofton, who was convicted of assaulting Hannon’s father.
Hannon told the Gerry Ryan Show in Ireland last week, "I am disgusted and disturbed she was able to come up with these allegations about me in the first place. At the same time, I suppose she had the good grace to come back and sort it out.”
Hannon added, “I thank her for that. I suppose a part of me forgives her, but part of me can't understand why either, but I am happy she came back. It took a lot of courage. She could have easily left me the way I was.”
It emerged that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) lost the file that exonerated Hannon from the assault, causing a delay of more than a year in clearing his name. Hannon’s conviction was quashed in February 2008. However, Hardester made the statement in December 2006, when she was 20.
But the conviction was only declared a miscarriage of justice last week.
The file contained three statements by Hardester acknowledging that she lied and invented the abuse. It took until March 2008 for the DPP to provide Hannon’s legal team with the new file containing the statement, because the DPP lost the file.
Hannon, now a father of one child and another on the way, always maintained that he was being targeted by Hardester’s family because of a dispute over land.
On Friday, May 1, Hardester’s mother, Katherine Hardester, wrote a letter to the press “in defense” of her daughter and to “clarify the situation.”
Citing the false allegations as “a tragedy for two families, the Hannons and my own,” Katherine blames the Gardai and the Irish justice system for failing her daughter and Hannon.
Katherine outlined in detail the physical and mental abuse she and Una suffered at the hands of her husband (now ex-husband).
“My ex-husband was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive to me in front of the children. He was also emotionally and physically abusive with Una,” she wrote.
Katherine recalls clearly the morning of the incident. Una had gone for a walk and re-appeared with a neighbor “dazed and confused and begged to take a bath.”
Una had told the Garda that she had fallen in a well and never mentioned anything about an assault.
Katherine said Gardai refused to examine Una, and it was days later when a female Garda took a statement from the young girl.
Una told the Gardai at that stage that “she had been running down the hill in the heavy fog and thought she heard someone running behind her. When she looked back for a second she saw a man with a long nose, and the next thing she knew she was in the well and thought someone had pushed her down or shoved her with a stick.”
Katherine claims that Garda assumed because of the ongoing ructions with the Hannons that Feichin, who had a long nose, (and so did half of Ireland, writes Katherine) must have abused the young girl.
“The officer in charge of investigating this event read all the police reports about the troubles the Hannons had had with our family and others and decided to proceed with a full investigation,” wrote Katherine.
Weeks after the incident, Una asked to be sent to the U.S. to her grandmother. She returned a year later to be told Hannon had been charged and a trial would ensue.
Una begged not to be put on the stand and pleaded with her father to let return to the U.S. Her father refused, saying Una needed “closure.”
After the trail Katherine took Una to the U.S. and never returned to Ireland. Hardester grew up in the U.S. and works for the research foundation for the State University of New York.