Outrage as solicitor who filmed woman at leisure centre avoids prison term

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The Independent Online

There was anger last night after a Belfast-based solicitor who attempted voyeurism by filming a young woman changing in a leisure centre cubicle escaped a prison sentence.

Richie MacRitchie, 33, was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for seven years.

And with the lawyer facing a professional disciplinary hearing later this week, the family of the victim claimed he should be banned from practising.

Her father, who cannot be named, said: “My daughter is still being treated for depression, stress and anxiety because of this.

“We now hope that the Law Society will take the appropriate steps. He should be barred.”

MacRitchie, who plans to appeal the sentence, was found guilty after a judge at Belfast Magistrates Court ruled he used his mobile phone to record the woman in a cubicle for the intention of sexual gratification.

The solicitor, from Ardmullan, Omeath, Co Louth, was convicted of the new offence after originally being cleared of voyeurism.

He had admitted filming four clips of the woman, who was then aged 18, in the booth next to him at the Falls Leisure Centre, west Belfast in October 2006.

At first a direction of no case to answer was given because his target was wearing a bikini. Because of this it was decided she was not engaged in a private act according to the Sexual Offences Act.

Later, however, the Court of Appeal ordered the prosecution to proceed on a fresh charge of attempted voyeurism.

A psychiatrist who examined him following his arrest claimed he was suffering from chronic stress and wanted to get caught.

It also emerged during the hearing that MacRitchie had been up to £100,000 in debt.

According to the medical expert MacRitchie, who worked as a non-profit making lawyer based at Conway Mill in Belfast before taking on extra duties with another firm, was suffering from acute stress and set out to harm himself.

Before sentence was passed yesterday defence counsel Eilis McDermott QC claimed the offence was completely opportunistic.

She said: “There is absolutely nothing to indicate planning and pre-meditation on his part.

“This is a case where the defendant has not even seen the face of the injured party.

“It’s different entirely to the case where a predatory person decides to stalk somebody or to follow them with a view to this kind of activity taking place.”

As she made her pleas for leniency there were outbursts from the victim’s father, who shouted out that a two-year-old child had been in the cubicle with his daughter.

Passing sentence, District Judge Fiona Bagnall acknowledged the distress and damage inflicted on the woman filmed.

“It’s clear this has had a significant effect upon her life,” Mrs Bagnall said.

“I do consider this to be a serious offence which does not fall within the low level range.”

Before MacRitchie left the dock his legal team indicated they planned to appeal the sentence.

Outside the court the woman’s father claimed the presence of a child had been overlooked.

“We would have liked to have seen a custodial sentence, although we’re glad he’s gone on the Sex Offenders’ Register,” he added.

“He was portrayed as a victim rather than my daughter. But she was training to be a hairdresser and she’s lost so much time due to depression that she has had to give up her college course.”

This article is taken from the Belfast Telegraph