Pensioner extradited to UK over 40-year-old crime before being cleared speaks of 'pure hell'

Rory McGrath
Rory McGrath has spoken of the 'pure hell' of being extradited to the UK from the US to stand trial for a crime that happened 40 years ago. (GoFundMe)

A pensioner extradited to the UK over the alleged assault of a police officer in 1980 and held in prison for seven months before being cleared has spoken of the "pure hell" of his experience.

Rory McGrath, who holds dual Irish-British citizenship, has lived in New York state since the last 1980s but in 2021 was arrested and brought back to the UK to stand trial for a 41-year-old crime.

The retired construction worker was held under house arrest for 15 months in New York before being flown to the UK in July last year, where he then spent seven months on remand awaiting trial.

In February, he was found not guilty, with the judge reportedly telling jurors that he did not know why the case had been brought after so many years, saying: "We have worse things to deal with, if I can put it that way."

McGrath has now told the BBC of the "devastating" impact the case had had on his wife and sons, while his lawyer said he had "never seen such a flagrant waste of taxpayer resources as in this case".

A general view of Leeds Crown Court.   (Photo by Anna Gowthorpe/PA Images via Getty Images)
McGrath was found not guilty at Leeds Crown Court in February. (Stock image: Getty)

McGrath told the BBC: "There are multiple victims here. It's been very stressful for everybody."

He said he was trying to put the "pure hell" of the experience behind him but added: "It's like Ground Zero - I don't care to think about it, but it's always going to be there."

The 64-year-old, who was born in Leeds, was involved in a fight in the city in 1980, when he was 21.

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Prosecutors alleged he was part of a group that assaulted a police officer and he was one of five men charged.

McGrath fled to Ireland, claiming he feared he was being "set up" amid what he described as an environment of "constant harassment" for an Irish national living in England in the 1970s and 1980s.

He spent several years living in Dublin then moved to the United States, where he met and married his wife.

Retired construction worker McGrath spent seven months on remand in prison in the UK. (GoFundMe)
Retired construction worker McGrath spent seven months on remand in prison in the UK. (GoFundMe)

Since then, McGrath had returned to Ireland to successfully apply for US citizenship, as well as travelling to the UK on several occasions using his own name and passport.

The pensioner accepted he had absconded in 1980 but said he believed the matter was closed as he did not experience any trouble while travelling and was never contacted by authorities.

But it emerged that in 2015 a local neighbourhood police officer in West Yorkshire became aware of an outstanding warrant for McGrath and referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which began extradition proceedings in 2016.

The first McGrath said he knew was when US Marshals raided his home in 2021, ordering his wife and 18-year-old twin sons out of bed at gunpoint and arresting him.

He was granted bail by a US judge and held on house arrest before he was brought back to the UK where he was jailed pending his trial.

McGrath was cleared of assault occasioning actual bodily harm following a trial at Leeds Crown Court and has since returned to the US.

His lawyer Daniel Martin has since questioned the "sudden need" to bring him back to the UK to face trial.

He told the BBC he wanted to know why prosecutors chose to "spend so much money and time and effort bringing back Mr McGrath for an allegation, which by any standards was low on the Richter scale of assaults".

Martin said the prosecution case was flawed because it relied partly on the victim identifying McGrath after a description had been circulated and he was in custody, which is no longer allowed.

But the BBC reported that the CPS maintained that assaults on police officers were a serious matter regardless of when they happened, and it was right to put all the evidence before a jury, while West Yorkshire Police said its pursuit of McGrath was "appropriate".