Peter Halloran, the Chief Investigator at the UN-backed Special Court that is trying those deemed most responsible for war crimes in Sierra Leone's civil war, has been jailed for 18 months on charges of sexually molesting his 13-year-old maid.
Halloran, a 56 year old former Head of Homicide in the police force of Victoria state in southern Australia, was convicted and sentenced by the High Court in Freetown on Monday.
He was found guilty of luring his maid to his bed and groping her bare breasts in the night.
Judge Samuel Ademusu said Halloran “took most improper liberties with the girl who was anxious to get a job…[ and he] told deliberate lies to the police out of a wish to conceal his disgraceful behaviour.”
“It would be meaningless to impose a fine on the accused, bearing in mind that this is a very serious offence in which I feel very strongly – taking a girl from school who was anxious for a job should not be visited with any other sentence than a custodial one,” he continued.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world.
According to the World Bank, the West African country had an annual gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of only US $150 in 2003 – less than the minimum wage for a 30 hour week in the United States.
Although there are no official unemployment figures, regular paid work is hard to find.
Evidence against Halloran came from one of his own colleagues on the Special Court. Mandy Caldwell, an investigator working under Halloran, was staying at his house when she discovered that the young girl was sleeping in Halloran’s bed.
The unnamed Sierra Leonean girl confirmed to police that she had slept in the house for two days during which Halloran had molested her. His attentions stopped short of intercourse, she added.
The Special Court is an impartial body set up by the government of Sierra Leone with the backing of the United Nations to try those most responsible for crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 brutal civil war.
Halloran, as Head of Investigations, lead the team that prepared evidence for the prosecution.
His job included interviewing witnesses, perpetrators and victims of war crimes that included the hacking off of limbs, rape, torture and mass killings.
Halloran’s lawyer, Nicholas Browne-Marke said that his client would appeal against the verdict.
Attorney General, Frederick Carew said that though there was no precedent, he would not object if the Australian government made moves to have Halloran transferred back to Australia to serve his sentence there. He noted that Australia, like Sierra Leone, was a member of the Commonwealth and had been magnanimous in taking in Sierra Leonean refugees.
However, such a move would require “a diplomatic and political decision,” Carew said.