The Galway man who last week had his conviction for sexually assaulting a young girl declared a miscarriage of justice has demanded an inquiry into how the gardaí investigated the case.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune from his home in Attymon, Co Galway, Michael Feichín Hannon (34) said there were many inconsistencies with his 10-year-old neighbour's story. There was no medical evidence to prove sexual assault following a check-up by doctors. He also said that investigating gardaí in Clifden were aware there was an on-going row between the two families over land. "The gardaí just wanted to believe that I was guilty and wanted it all over and done with. I'll never forget getting arrested and interrogated by them. They kept saying, 'You did it. Why would she make this up?' I think the gardaí have questions to answer. I'd like to see them investigated."
On Monday, the three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal certified Hannon's 1999 conviction for sexual assault and assault of then 10-year-old Una Hardester was a miscarriage of justice following admissions by her in 2006 that she lied about the alleged offence.
She first made the allegation in 1997. Hannon said the last 12 years of his life have been ruined because of it. While he's happy to have his name cleared, he said he will never fully recover from the ordeal. Hannon has contemplated suicide because of his depression over being wrongly convicted but the knowledge that he was innocent always stopped him. He has a four-year-old son with his partner Martina Kelly, who is due to give birth to their second child in two weeks. He met her after the complaint was made by Hardester and she has stood by him, never doubting his innocence.
"I never tried to take my life but I did sit on the bridge a few times and seriously think about it. Because I knew I was innocent it did give me a ray of hope. If it wasn't for Martina and my family, I wouldn't be here today. I look like a man of 50. This has aged me."
Hannon said he might agree some time in the future to meet Una Hardester face-to-face if she wished to apologise to him, but it was too soon at the moment. However, he said he would never agree to meet her father, American actor Crofton Hardester. Four days before Una Hardester alleged Hannon attacked her, her father was convicted of assaulting Hannon's mother and sister because of the row over a piece of land that adjoined their homes. "I saw him assault my mother and gave statements to the gardaí afterwards. I believe she was influenced into making that statement. I wouldn't totally hold it against her as she was a kid at the time. I never want to meet that man [Crofton] or speak to him," he said. "It's very hard to describe in words the impact the allegations had on me."
In the 1999 trial, Crofton Hardester appealed to the judge not to send Hannon to prison after he was found guilty but before he was sentenced.
"That was bizarre and should have set off alarm bells," said Hannon. "I'd been convicted of sexually assaulting his daughter. You'd expect he would have been waiting for me with a shotgun."
Hannon received a suspended four-year prison sentence. Una Hardester told the court Hannon threw her into a well and held her head underwater after sexually assaulting her.
Just days after Hannon was found guilty, Katherine Hardester, Una's mother, sent her back to the US. Soon afterwards, she split up with her husband and also left Ireland, and the couple has divorced. He also now lives in the US. In a statement posted on her blog this weekend, Katherine Hardester said her daughter never identified Hannon as the man who assaulted her, saying it was a "'a man with a long nose'". She also complained that she stopped the garda interview four times "to complain about the officer's questions". Garda sources say Katherine Hardester's statement at the time contradicts this.
Hannon said he is now going to attempt to rebuild his life and has "hidden himself away" since the allegations were made in 1997. He is entitled to seek compensation from the state.
"This is not something you can really celebrate. No amount of compensation would ever replace the years I have lost. I'm looking forward to the baby being born and getting on with the rest of my life."