Defence lawyer claims continued detention of man accused of breaching a Sexual Offences Prevention Order is ‘oppressive’

Michael McCollum

A solicitor for a man charged with breaching a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) has claimed the continued detention of the defendant is “oppressive”.

The lawyer was speaking at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday regarding Michael McCollum (20), from Carnlough, who has been in prison on remand since March this year.

The lawyer said the length of time spent behind bars on remand would far outweigh the length of any sentence.

McCollum is accused of breaching the Order by having ‘unsupervised contact with a young person under 16’ and using the internet to contact a child.

The offences are alleged to have happened between the end of January and mid-February this year.

Previous courts heard McCollum allegedly contacted two ten-year-old boys in England via Instagram and asking them to “carry out sexual acts on themselves” for him to watch.

Objecting to bail on a previous occasion, a police officer told a court that on March 9 this year the PSNI in Ballymena received a report from police in Lancashire that two boys, aged ten, had been contacted via Instagram and “sexually graphic” content was involved.

McCollum was alleged to have performed a sex act upon himself and asked the boys to “carry out sexual acts on themselves” and asked if he could watch.

Police traced the internet link to McCollum’s address and a number of devices were seized which had access to the internet.

The police officer told the court that during interview McCollum made “admissions in relation to all offences”.

The officer said the offences happened when McCollum was on Probation for previous similar offending and was also on police bail in relation to ongoing enquiries over other alleged offences reported last summer.

McCollum appeared back at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday via video link from Hydebank Prison for a new bail application which was again opposed by police because of the defendant’s previous convictions and the need to “protect vulnerable persons”.

The officer said images found on a phone related directly to the investigation.

The defence lawyer said a relative was reluctant to allow McCollum to stay in Carnlough because of the nature of the offending “and the attention that would have drawn in the community”.

The lawyer said he accepted it was a “difficult” case.

He said McCollum had never spent time in custody before but had now been there for three months on remand and the case would take a long time to complete because of the amount of time needed to examine devices.

The lawyer said the defendant had, during a police interview, admitted breaching the SOPO.

He said McCollum had spent a long time abiding by the SOPO and said there were issues relating to the mental capacity of the defendant who suffered from Asperger’s.

The solicitor said it was difficult to get a bail hostel as demand was very high and described the “continued detention as oppressive”.

District Judge Nigel Broderick said the defendant had a “very relevant record” from the Crown Court in 2016 and 2018 and had 28 convictions whilst there were “other matters” the police wished to put to McCollum.

The judge refused bail and the case was adjourned to June 20.

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