Sex abuse trial of councillor abandoned

The Northern Echo: Peter McLaughlin Peter McLaughlin

THE trial of a North-East councillor accused of sexually assaulting a teenage schoolboy on coach trips abroad was today (Monday, December 9) abandoned.

Peter McLaughlin, 61, who was accused of regularly abusing the boy while working as a holiday coach driver in Cumbria in the 1990s, faces a retrial in April.

The former chairman of both Stanley Town Council, and Stanley Area Action Partnership, which is part of Durham County Council, had been on trial at Carlisle Crown Court for a week.

But today (Monday, December 9) the jury was discharged from giving a verdict after a key prosecution witness was deemed by his doctors to be unfit to give further evidence.

The jury was told the man had suffered a head injury in a fall at his home last week when he was halfway through giving evidence.

Because of that, and because the man needed time in hospital for regular dialysis sessions, it was not known when or if he would be able to return to court to complete his evidence.

Judge Paul Batty QC said "justice demands" that the jury be discharged.

Councillor McLaughlin, who remains a serving town councilor, will now go on trial in front of a different jury on April 7 and he has been granted bail.

Coun McLaughlin, of Murray Park, Stanley, County Durham, had pleaded not guilty to 15 charges of indecent assault, covering various kinds of sexual abuse.

The prosecution alleged he had deliberately befriended the 13-year-old so he could sexually abuse him on the trips he made all over Britain and Europe as a driver for Redcrest Holidays in the early 1990s.

Prosecuting counsel Kim Whittlestone described his behaviour as “a classic case” of an adult grooming a child for sex.

Coun McLaughlin told detectives that, being gay, he was always careful not to put himself “in an awkward position” with other people, and he had never been alone in a foreign hotel with the boy.

He said that when his alleged victim was about 16 he had made homophobic comments about him and his then partner, with whom he lived.

And many years later the boy, by then grown-up, had phoned him asking for a loan.

It was only after that, the court heard, that the alleged victim went to the police to make a formal complaint about McLaughlin’s sexual behaviour.

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