09/02/2011

Afghanistan Veteran On Rape Charge

A bomb-blasted former soldier has appeared in court in Belfast charged with rape and false imprisonment.

Gerald Verner, 23, of Forthriver Park, who was deafened by a bomb in Afghanistan, is also accused of inflicting grievous bodily harm, sexual assault and threats to kill against the same woman.

The court heard the alleged offences were committed in Belfast on Monday.

Mr Verner, who was said in court to have been discharged in exemplary circumstances, denies the charges and was remanded in custody until next month.

A detective told Belfast Magistrates' Court that the incident has had a "devastating effect" on the woman he is accused of raping.

The officer also claimed there was a risk of interference with witnesses, and that the accused had shown "a clear disregard for discipline and adherence to rules and regulations" during his military service.

Mr Verner claimed to have had consensual sex with the alleged victim and it was disclosed that he had served in Afghanistan before being caught up in a bombing in Kabul.

The blast was said to have left him deaf in one ear and with only partial hearing in the other.

Meanwhile, rape and sexual assault victims are to be given fresh support with news today that the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey laid the foundations for a new £2m regional centre for victims of sexual assault.

The new Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is to be built in the grounds of Antrim Area Hospital.

The new SARC, a partnership between DHSSPS and the PSNI, will be a one stop specialist centre providing comprehensive and co-ordinated medical, forensic and aftercare services for anyone who needs these services. Building work is expected to take 12 months.

Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey said: "This investment in a Sexual Assault Referral Centre is key to improving the standard of care for victims of sexual violence in Northern Ireland.

"The Regional Strategy on Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse identified a number of key actions to be taken forward, in partnership with the Department of Justice, to tackle and address the issue of sexual violence and abuse in Northern Ireland," noting that the SARC is a significant step which will deliver high standards of care and services by specialist staff trained in caring for victims of sexual abuse.

The SARC will work closely with Voluntary Sector Organisations to deliver a co-ordinated range of services to meet the individual needs of the victim.

Justice Minister David Ford was also in attendance at Antrim Area Hospital as work started on the Sexual Assault Referral Centre.

He said: "This is an important day for all the agencies involved in providing support and help for the victims of rape and sexual assault.

"This new centre will not only offer co-ordinated medical and aftercare services but also provide a supportive gateway for victims to the criminal justice system.

"Ensuring victims are properly cared for and supported is a crucial element in encouraging reporting of offences and maintaining their engagement with the justice process through to its conclusion.

"We will be looking to build on the supportive environment the SARC can provide and develop additional measures which will help reduce the high victim withdrawal rate in rape and sexual assault cases and bring more perpetrators before the courts," said the Alliance party Minister.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said: "Sexual violence is a horrific crime that can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. It traumatises victims/survivors and has repercussions for them far beyond the immediate or the physical.

"A report of sexual violence requires a police officer to balance the often conflicting demands of the investigation with the needs of the victim/survivor. In the past we didn't always get this balance right however we are working hard to change that. This is why we were keen to be part of establishing and funding Northern Ireland's first Sexual Assault Centre.

"I believe the centre's comprehensive victim/survivor-centred package of aftercare and world class evidence gathering facilities will work hand in hand to give victims/survivors the support they need whilst enhancing the police response and investigation."

(BMcC/GK)

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