Not proven verdict in attempted abduction case

Mitchell appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson/JP
Mitchell appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson/JP

A convicted sex offender is set to be released from prison after a jury acquitted him of attempting to abduct two little girls.

Jurors returned a verdict of not proven to an allegation that 51-year-old John Bermingham tried to seize the little girls from Glenburn Road, Falkirk, on May 19, 2017.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard evidence from the little girls that a man approached them whilst they played and told them he had lost his jacket.

The court heard that the man offered them £5 if they helped him find it. He also told them about a house in woodland which contained treats.

The girls couldn’t identify the man, but 49-year-old Viper MacDonald saw the man with the little girls from the window of his home and rushed to stop him from getting away.

Mr MacDonald was helped by a 17-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons. They stopped the man and restrained him whilst he shouted: “I’m no a paedo.”

Mr MacDonald said the man he seized was John Bermingham and he told the court that the accused was the man he saw with the little girls.

Police then arrested Mr Bermingham and when they took him into custody, officers discovered condoms, sweets and sleeping pills in his possession.

Prosecutors thought they had enough evidence to prove that Bermingham was abducting the girls with the intention of committing a sexual assault on them.

However, on this afternoon (Thursday), jurors returned a not proven verdict to the charge and a not guilty verdict to a second charge of assaulting the 17-year-old boy during the struggle.

This prompted judge Lord Beckett to acquit Bermingham, who broke down in tears in the dock.

He told him: “By the jury’s verdict you have been acquitted of the charges before you.”

The verdict prompted relatives of the little girls to leave court.

The tearful relatives shouted: “Well done.” They also shouted: “Wait until you find out who he is. He’s a human beast.”

The jury were unaware that Bermingham was unable to walk free from the dock following acquittal. This was because he was on remand in HMP Barlinnie for the duration of the five day long trial.

The jury were also unaware that in July 2002 Bermingham was jailed for 12 years for sexually assaulting a woman and an 11-year-old girl in the space of an hour.

Other members of Bermingham’s family have also been jailed.

In January 2003, his son William was caged for attempting to rape a 17-year-old girl in Grangemouth.

During proceedings in the current trial, the court heard how the little girls were approached by a man cycling a bike who asked them for help.

The court heard the girls thought the man was “nice” and they decided to help him.

But the children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, soon changed their minds. One of the girls said she thought the man was going to “kill” her.

Her friend told police that she thought the man was going to “trick her.”

Mr MacDonald said he saw the man walking with the girls towards woodland and he decided to run from his house. He enlisted the help of a 17-year-old boy to help him.

He told the court about his suspicions about the man who they both restrained.

He added: “I had never seen the man before. I was wondering who it was. I didn’t know the girls. It didn’t look right.

“I thought they were in danger.”

Bermingham chose not to give evidence in his own defence.

Defence advocate Keith Stewart QC told the jurors that there was a reasonable doubt in the Crown case against his client and they should acquit Bermingham.

At the start of proceedings, Lord Beckett warned jurors not to Google Bermingham and to try him solely on the evidence that was placed before him in court.

At the end of the case on Thursday, this limitation on their actions was removed.

The only thing which the jurors cannot do is to talk about their deliberations in reaching their verdicts.

Lord Beckett thanked them for their service.

After jurors left the court, Bermingham tried to leave the court by the front door. He could be seen telling security guards to let him leave the dock.

However, the security guards refused him permission to leave and returned him to prison. He is expected to be released shortly.

Following the verdict, Lord Beckett praised Mr MacDonald for his actions.

He said: “I would like to thank Mr MacDonald for his publicly responsible actions. His actions were within the law and he acted in an entirely proper and commendable way.”