According to the neighbour, 10-year-old Una Hardester was in a terrible condition when she arrived at the house that day. It was around 4pm on 27 January 1997.
Jacqueline O'Toole was at home. Her daughter Michelle came into the kitchen with Michelle's friend, Una.
"She was shaking, and I noticed her whole body was trembling," O'Toole told the gardaí. "Her face was completely covered with dirty muck and her nostrils were full of that black dirty muck. The marks on her forehead appeared to me to be finger marks and as if the pressure was so severe that the fingermarks got buried into her forehead. The back of her trouser was wet and stained with mud. She has long hair, shoulder length hair [which] was completely drenched."
Una Hardester would claim that she had been assaulted and sexually assaulted by 22-year-old Michael Feichín Hannon some minutes beforehand. The allegation would, 10 years later, turn out to be completely false.
In her statement to the gardaí, Hardester claimed that not alone did Hannon attack her, but his father, mother and sister looked on in a manner that suggested they approved of the assault.
There had been bad blood between the Hardesters and the Hannons for the previous three years since the Hardesters moved to Cleggan, outside Clifden in Co Galway, from New York. There was a dispute over land and a right of way. Various incidents had led to court cases. In one case, some weeks before 27 January, Hannon had given evidence that Una Hardester's father, Crofton, had assaulted Hannon's sister and mother.
Una Hardester gave a detailed account of the alleged assault. She identified Hannon as her assailant. "I walked down the hill and walked past the house the Hannons are building. (The Hannons were building a second house further down the road from their own home which was next door to the Hardesters.)
"I heard footsteps coming up fast behind me… he grabbed me and lifted me up. He had his left hand over my mouth and he put his right hand into my vagina. I could feel his finger scraping at my vagina wall.
"When I walked past his house his father, mother and Mary Hannon were at the house. I could sense when he was assaulting me that they were watching."
She claimed he then dragged her to a nearby well. "He removed his hand from my mouth and pushed my head in the water. He was holding me forcefully with my head in the water. He started beating me with a wet stick." At the end of her statement she explained: "My mammy told me a few years ago when I was little about the names of my sexual parts. That is the term I would use, 'vagina'."
Last Monday, at Hannon's application for a certificate of miscarriage of justice, Judge Adrian Hardiman noted that Hardester's statement "was conspicuous for its graphic and coherent language and for the correct use of various medical/anatomical terms".
Her mother Katherine Hardester later told the gardaí that Una finally revealed the extent of the assault some weeks later when she "asked me to look at her labia". It is unclear whether Katherine Hardester was inferring that her daughter used that term herself.
The evidence of Hardester's father was notable. "Since my family and myself moved to Cleggan we have suffered numerous experiences of intimidation, bullying and deviant sexual behaviour from the Hannon family who are my next door neighbours", he told the gardaí. There is no record of any incidents of deviant sexual behaviour between the neighbours. The most recent case arising from the feud had been a conviction of assault against Crofton Hardester.
On the day in question, he said he was working on his house. "I had a strange kind of feeling. I looked up and I saw Mary Hannon, the daughter of Gabriel and Margaret Hannon, at the front door of her house, smiling silently at me… I could feel the sense of something. It was a very bad feeling."
A few minutes later his wife came out and told him to go down to O'Tooles'. Una was in some kind of trouble. At O'Tooles', "she was trembling and shaking uncontrollably… her little body was violently trembling and shaking with uncontrolled speech".
He went on: "At this point I did not realise that she was also sexually abused by her attacker. Knowing now that this happened and that she was penetrated sexually, words cannot express the anger that I feel towards these people and the fact that his parents and sister allegedly stood by and watched and enticed this behaviour. Only when it got to a point, with my daughter's head buried under the water, like a dog, they called him off."
Mary Hannon was identified by Una as being outside the house under construction at the time of the assault. Minutes later, Crofton Hardester placed her outside her own home further up the hill. The inference was that Mary Hannon was smirking at Una's father a few minutes after witnessing her brother assault 10-year-old Una.
In her retraction in 2006, Una Hardester said she had acted entirely alone in fabricating the incident. "I was never coerced to make the complaint, never coached and never encouraged by anyone. I am the only party at fault."
At around 7pm on the day in question, Una was examined by a nurse in Clifden District Hospital. The only injury she had was a bruise on her right knee, which a doctor later suggested was consistent with "minor trauma sustained by a playing child".
Two weeks later Hannon was arrested and questioned by the gardaí. He made no admissions. He consistently denied he had done anything wrong.
Hannon was convicted of assault and sexual assault on 7 July 1999. The following December, Judge Carroll Moran handed down a four years' suspended sentence. One factor in suspending the sentence was evidence from Crofton Hardester that he hoped better relations would prevail between the families.
Una Hardester went to live in the United States. In November 2006, when she was 20, she returned to Galway and gave a statement to a solicitor retracting her allegation, and admitted that she had fabricated the whole thing.
The following month she gave a similar statement to the gardaí under caution. That statement can be used in court in the event of any charges such as perjury being brought against her. As of now, the DPP is not preparing a case against Una Hardester in relation to the case.
Last Monday, the Court of Criminal Appeal granted Michael Feichín Hannon a certificate of Miscarriage of Justice. The certificate allows for him to claim compensation from the state for the wrong he has suffered.
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