Unlawful Carnal Knowledge: The True Story of the Irish 'X' Case

Wendy Holden


On a cold and inhsopitable night in December 1991, a 42-year-old married man forced himself on a 14-year-old girl and planted the seed that was to become the most controversial foetus in the whole of Irish history. The extraordinary case in the Irish High Court and the injunction to stop the distraught girl having an abortion became a cause célèbre for radicals, doctors and politicians.


But what was the anguished truth behind this tragic human story? How did one girl affect the course of Irish history, unwittingly precipitate a referendum and change the law?


Only Wendy Holden, the journalist and author with unrivalled access to the chief protagonists, can tell the whole story. Uniquely compelling, at times shocking, at times heartbreaking, Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is an important and utterly riveting book.


Wendy Holden was working for the Daily Telegraph in London for whom she originally covered the ‘X’ case. Her book was published after many months of research – and an impassioned involvement with the case. Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is the legal term in Ireland for the crime of statutory rape. Banned in Ireland, this book lifted the lid on a highly controversial case, which sent shudders around the world.


Read an extract from this book

What the critics say

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Read an Extract


It was while sitting in a tiny District Court in the suburbs of Dublin watching the girl in the ‘X’ case quietly giving her evidence for the first time that I realized that someone should tell her story.


There had been so much international furore about the Irish abortion issue that her personal tragedy had rekindled, and so many politicians and campaigners for both sides jumping on the bandwagon to gain some sort of advantage from her plight. The eyes of the world had been focused on Ireland and the moralizing and the self-interested debate that went on made most of those involved with the girl and her family sick to the stomach.


But on that day, in that courtroom, sitting in the witness box just a few feet away from her attacker, entirely alone and speaking in a soft Irish accent, she made the few people watching her realize that she was really all that mattered.


Her parents sat behind her, stiff with tension. Her abuser studied his fingernails casually and looking as if he wished it would all soon be over. But for almost two hours her little voice filled the hushed courtroom. The sun shimmered on a tiny gold crucifix dangling from her collar and the light it reflected danced on the walls and ceiling of what had once been an old schoolhouse.


When it was over, she was gone as suddenly as she had arrived. Back to the anonymity promised her by the legal system. Back to the home where her parents were still struggling to come to terms with what had happened, and back to the fragments of teenage life she was trying so hard to piece together even after her abuse, the pregnancy and its aftermath.


Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is the story of this girl: ‘X’ as she will always be known. It is the story of an ordinary little girl from an ordinary home, in an ordinary street, but living in an extraordinary country where events that took place before she was grown were to affect her in a most dramatic and shocking way. This is a full and frank report of the events that happened, as they happened to the people involved. It is set down for posterity, in the hope that the lessons learned from it will prevent it from ever happening again.


It is also written for ‘X’ so that she might one day fully understand the enormity of the events that must have baffled and bewildered her as a child. Her courage and that of her parents are the abiding themes. Her eventual recovery is all that one can hope for.


What the Critics Say


“An examination of the human story behind the most controversial rape cases in Irish history, written in the style of a novel but with documentary photography. Holden is passionate about her cause. There is no denying her commitment and involvement in the case.” The Yorkshire Post


“A lucid, calm and accurate account, eloquently assembled. A substantial achievement.” The Mail on Sunday


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