Sex offender fails to overturn conviction for Cookstown attack

Thomas Ward
Thomas Ward

A sex offender failed today in a bid to overturn his conviction for attacking a female jogger.

The Court of Appeal upheld both the guilty verdict returned against Thomas Ward and the indefinite prison sentence imposed on him.

Ward, 25, formerly of The Glen in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, was jailed for sexual assault inflicted on the middle-aged victim in February 2011.

She is believed to have been followed by a man in a grey hoodie for up to a mile after leaving her home to go jogging in Cookstown.

At one stage the woman tried to run past her attacker but was grabbed between the legs.

She then managed to escape and took refuge in a friend’s house before phoning the police.

CCTV images showed Ward in the area at the time. They included included pictures of him running after the victim as she jogged through a petrol station forecourt.

In 2012 he was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to an indeterminate custodial sentence, with a minimum of two years behind bars.

Ward’s appeal centred on issues around the details of a conviction for a previous sex attack being introduced at his trial.

He had held a woman captive in his car on St Patrick’s Day 2006 and tried to remove her underwear before she fought back and escaped.

The trial judge admitted details of this case as bad character evidence after deciding it showed a propensity to this type of offending.

Lawyers for Ward challenged the handling of this material and criticised the trial judge’s directions to the jury.

It was claimed that no explanation was given for the evidence was being heard and its relevance to the 2011 assault.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, hearing the appeal with Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, accepted that the trial judge could detailed all the similarities and dissimilarities between the earlier convictions and allegations before the jury.

But rejecting all grounds of challenge, he held: “In the context of this two-day trial where the issues, particularly relating to the similarities, were clear, we do not consider that the failure to do so rendered this conviction unsafe.”

As Ward appeared via a prison video-link, he heard his appeal against sentence be dismissed as well.

Sir Declan pointed to his persistent breaching of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders imposed on him in the earlier case.

Repeated convictions for driving while disqualified also showed his tendency to ignore court orders, according to the judge.

With Ward classed as unlikely to complete a sex offenders treatment programme, Sir Declan confirmed: “Those are entirely adequate reasons for the imposition of the indeterminate custodial sentence in this case.”