A FORMER Omagh school bus driver accused of taking underskirt photos and videos of more than 20 young girls, many still in their school uniforms, has been granted bail.
Robert John James Arnold (46), of Colhoun Terrace, Mountjoy, is charged with making an indecent photograph of a child, possessing an indecent photograph and committing an act of a ‘lewd, obscene and disgusting’ nature and outraging public decency by taking underskirt photographs of girls.
The offences are alleged to have occurred between July 23, 2019 and April 20, 2022.
Today, defence counsel Stephen Mooney made a fresh application for bail on behalf of Arnold, who has spent the last five months serving time on remand in Maghaberry prison. The application was once again opposed by the PSNI.
The defendant’s first bail application in June of this year was rejected, while an appeal to the High Court against this ruling was also rejected due to the risk of further offending.
At a previous hearing earlier this month, police told the court that over 50,000 images had been identified across five devices linked to the Mountjoy man.
Police noted that, of the 50,000 images on the devices, 39,000 had still to be analysed and categorised, but 540 images had been identified as ‘indecent’.
At Arnold’s initial bail hearing in June, the court heard that, during police interview, the defendant admitted to having around 1,000 indecent images of children on his phone, with more to be found on his personal computer.
The offences occurred in a span of nearly three years, when Arnold would travel to his parent’s caravan on the North Coast.
He allegedly took underskirt photos and videos of young girls, many still in their school uniforms.
Today’s application for bail was made on the grounds that Arnold had already been held in custody for five months due to delays in the case.
The police detective continued to oppose bail on the grounds that Arnold may reoffend and the risk to the defendant’s life, citing the media and public interest in the case.
It was revealed to the court that further examinations of the defendant’s electronic devices had found 22 more victims of Arnold’s upskirt recording, with only two identified so far.
In examination of the evidence gathered, police described the nature of Arnold’s offending as ‘persistent and targeted’.
To date, 540 images have been identified as illegal, with many more falling short of child pornography, but instead being classed as voyeurism and public indecency.
Yet the detective described the videos as having been recorded for ‘sexual gratification’, noting that Arnold himself had admitted his sexual attraction to children at police interview.
The officer claimed that there would be a risk of attack to the defendant if released on bail, referencing the media’s coverage and protests at the caravan site where some of the alleged offending occurred.
Furthermore, the detective noted that online anti-paedophile groups had caused damage to the caravan park and threatened violence to the site owners.
Applying for bail, Mr Mooney noted that, with all the devices seized by the police, there was no risk of Arnold’s interference with the case.
The barrister further observed that Arnold had no previous convictions. He also noted the absence of offending while the defendant was on police bail.
When Deputy District Judge Pranter addressed the likelihood of attack on Arnold if released, barrister argued that the defendant was a grown man and was ‘aware of the risks’.
Mooney further noted that Arnold’s liberty “… should not be at the mercy of those who wish to do harm”.
The judge granted Arnold his own bail of £500 with the conditions that he should not have possession or use any device that can record or access the internet.
Additionally, Arnold is to reside at his parents’ house and cannot have unsupervised contact with children. He must also adhere to a curfew of 9pm to 7am, and is prohibited from the caravan park.
Arnold will appear before Omagh Magistrates Court on December 19.
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