A man fighting an order under which he must give police 24 hours’ notice before having sex with a new partner has lost his legal battle to have the restriction lifted. John O’Neill, a 45-year-old IT consultant, could face up to five years in prison if he fails to comply with the unprecedented order.
O’Neill was cleared of raping a woman last year, but in a rare move, the judge told the Crown Prosecution Service he still considered him to be dangerous. He was subsequently placed on an interim sexual risk order (SRO), making him the first person in the UK obliged to give police notice before he could have sex. Following the ruling, O’Neill went on television to say his life had been ruined.
On Friday, he lost his case after police successfully argued that he posed a risk to the public. Describing him as an attention seeker, the district judge Adrian Lower said: “I have found Mr O’Neill to be a vain, manipulative and grandstanding individual who sought to persuade me that black is white and used the valuable time of professionals to describe sexual fantasies he may or may not have. There is a narcissistic streak to Mr O’Neill, who does trouble me in terms of further contact he may have with other people.”
Lower did, however, query the terms of the order, and said they would be revisited, as in their current form they were “wholly disproportionate and frankly unpoliceable”.
During the hearing, it was alleged that in 2014 O’Neill had made a series of worrying confessions to his GP and a psychiatric nurse, including the choking of a woman unconscious, that he had thought “a lot” about killing her, and that he needed women “to be scared, or I don’t respond”.
York magistrates court heard that despite O’Neill being cleared of rape at Teesside crown court in November, the judge in the original trial, Simon Bourne-Arton, said after the jury was dismissed: “Please could you inform the authorities that although this man has been acquitted, it is my judgment that he is a very dangerous individual.”
North Yorkshire police then applied for the order on the basis of comments the single father-of-two allegedly made in 2014. O’Neill, who says he is unable to work because of the terms of the order and has been living rough in a wood outside York, claims his words were misunderstood.
The police began their case with statements from a community psychiatric nurse, Kevin Holmes, who had meetings with O’Neill in 2014. In a statement read to court he said O’Neill told him he was having sexually violent thoughts that continued all day. He also allegedly told Holmes he got into fights deliberately so that he would be beaten up and injured.
Holmes said: “He said he had been sexually violent towards girlfriends and he was not sure whether they consented. He had stopped asking girlfriends if they consented to sex over the last 12 months.”
The court was told O’Neill’s sexually violent thoughts dated back to his teenage years. The court also heard that his GP, Dr Miriam Hodgson, had made notes in which she recorded that his “sex life has become violent … [he] has been seeking out increasingly extreme sexual experiences”. She wrote: “Thinks he may have raped someone – it went further than she expected.”
O’Neill said he was being penalised because of his interest in sado-masochism (S&M) and visits to fetish clubs. He said he had discussed S&M with his GP and Holmes in relation to his mental state, and that they had misunderstood what he was telling them. He also said the SRO had had a devastating effect on his personal life.
O’Neill’s identity was made public earlier this year after an order protecting his anonymity was lifted. In June he threatened to go on hunger strike in protest at the order.
SROs can be applied to any individual who police believe poses a risk of sexual harm, even if they have never been convicted of a crime. O’Neill said he was amazed that the police sought one after his acquittal. Lower, however, rejected his defence and said both Hodgson and Holmes had recorded accurate notes from their meetings with him.
The new terms of O’Neill’s order, which also contains restrictions on his use of the internet and mobile phones and requires him to inform police of any change of address, will be agreed on 22 September.
After the hearing O’Neill said: “It looks as though I may be able to get my life back after this. I’m still concerned about what the terms of the order will be and I’m very disappointed that the court decided it needed to continue. But it looks as though I will be able to work again, and because of that I may be able to find a home again.”
North Yorkshire police said: “The judge has made it very clear that he believes Mr O’Neill poses a risk of sexual harm, and that it is right to have an order against him in place. We will work with the courts to agree suitable prohibitions that will protect the public from the risk Mr O’Neill poses.”