Horsebreeder Michael Beattie from Lisburn jailed for sexual abuse of teenage girl

A champion horse breeder who groomed, “used and abused” a teenage girl at his Lisburn stables was handed a four-year sentence.

Jailing Michael Harold Beattie at Craigavon Crown Court, sitting in Coleraine, Judge Peter Irvine KC said given the nature if the offences, the breach of trust and the list of aggravating factors, “it is clear this case has crossed the custody threshold.”

As well as ordering the 42-year-old to serve half his sentence in jail and half under supervised licence conditions, the judge told Beattie he will have to sign the sex offenders register for the rest of his life and also imposed a seven-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order which places numerous restrictions on Beattie in order to “protect the public from potential future harm.”

With a jury sworn in ready to hear the trial of Beattie last January, the 42-year-old was rearraigned and made a late dock confession to each of the eight charges against him including six counts of engaging in sexual activity with a child aged 13-16 and two of inciting the same child to engage in sexual activity over a time span between December 21, 2018 and March 5, 2019.

Michael Beattie was sentenced at Craigavon Crown Court for sexual activity with a child aged between 13 and 16 and inciting sexual activity with a child aged between 13 and 16.Michael Beattie was sentenced at Craigavon Crown Court for sexual activity with a child aged between 13 and 16 and inciting sexual activity with a child aged between 13 and 16.
Michael Beattie was sentenced at Craigavon Crown Court for sexual activity with a child aged between 13 and 16 and inciting sexual activity with a child aged between 13 and 16.

Opening the facts of the case for the first time on Friday, prosecuting counsel Ian Tannahill told the court how the victim was going to Beattie’s livery stables on the Bresagh Road on an almost daily basis, taking care of her own horse and “helping out with chores around the yard.”

"The defendant was well known to her and to the family,” said the lawyer, adding that Beattie had known the girl since she was a young child at primary school.

The offences came to light in March 2019 when a friend of the victim spotted the schoolgirl and Beattie kissing in the yard and called the victim’s sister to tell her.

While the victim denied to her mum and sister there was anything sexual going on, the concerned relatives examined the teenager’s phone and discovered text messages where she referred to having “hot sex” with Beattie, a married father-of-one.

The mother and sister contacted Beattie’s wife and they, along with the defendants mother, confronted him at the horse yard but he denied he had done anything wrong.

The police were contacted and while initially, “it’s clear that she wanted to minimise what had happened to protect the defendant and avoid trouble at home for herself,” the victim had a video recorded interview with detectives where she outlined how Beattie had “initiated the sexual activity.”

The schoolgirl told police how Beattie had “come up behind her and kissed her neck,” continuing to kiss her when she turned around.

Two weeks after that, the pair were having full sexual intercourse in a caravan in the yard.

Mr Tannahill revealed that Beattie told the girl he was “going to leave his wife” for her and that he “wanted people to know about her but not yet because she was too young.”

"She indicated that this was pleasing to her but she was scared by this,” said the barrister adding that the victim also “made it clear that none of the sexual activity was forced.”

Beattie was interviewed by police on two occasions in March and August 2019, but he maintained the most sexual contact between them had been a “kiss on the cheek.”

"Asked if he was attracted to her, he said he was a married men and claimed that the girl had tried to kiss him the other day and he pushed her away saying he was married,” Mr Tannahill told the court.

Turning to aggravating and mitigating factors to be taken into account, he conceded that Beattie has a clear record and had admitted his guilt but any credit must recognise that it was at the last minute, on the day the trial was due to start.

There was also multiple aggravating features including the breach of trust, the significant age gap, that he initiated the sexual activity and the harm caused to the victim.

Suggesting the relationship was akin to that “between a coach and an athlete,” Mr Tannahill explained that when assessing the level of the breach of trust, “the court may take the view that teenage girls who are interested in horses tend to be very interested in everything that goes with horses and in the yard and so on.”

He revealed that in her victim impact statement, she now realises that Beattie “used and abused her and believes that she was groomed.”

Describing the case as representing a “spectacular fall from grace,” defence counsel Rosemary Walsh told the court that Beattie is remorseful, “acknowledges the harm that has been caused to this injured party” and submitted that in addition to any prison sentence, there will be an impact on the defendant for years to come.

"This is a small jurisdiction and the particular line of work that he was involved in is one where people talk so his offending and the publicity surrounding it will he a significant impact on his reputation,” she told the court.

Jailing Beattie, Judge Irvine said he was satisfied the pervert had “engaged in a course of grooming” his victim and that he had had made “a number of remarks which were clearly designed to appeal to the injured party and in effect, designed to encourage her to take part in this activity.

"It is absolutely clear that this activity has had a detrimental effect on not only her mental health but also on her general well being,” the judge said.

The judge told Beattie if he had not admitted his guilt, thereby saving the victim the “undoubted ordeal” of having to give evidence, he would have received a five-year sentence instead.

Following the sentencing, the PSNI urged anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse to come forward.

Detective Constable Elaine Murray said: “Beattie took advantage of this young girl and manipulated her for his own sexual gratifications.

"We would like to acknowledge the courage this young girl has had to speak up and aide our investigation.

"If you have ever been subjected to any form of sexual abuse or are concerned about someone else please contact 101 or 999 in cases of emergency. We care, we will listen and we will act to keep you and other safe.”