Friday 24 October 2014

Principal: Lydia had no idea of extortion allegations

Tim Healy

Published 09/07/2014 | 02:30

Lydia O'Hara
Helen O'Donnell

THE principal of a school being sued by former pupil Lydia O'Hara over a false extortion allegation told the High Court she knew from the 15-year-old's immediate reaction to the accusation that she did not know what was going on.

"My gut reaction was that it was something she did not know about," Helen O'Donnell, principal of Scoil Chriost Ri in Portlaoise said yesterday.

The jury was told yesterday they are now only to consider the issue of whether there was reckless or intentional infliction of emotional and physical harm on Ms O'Hara.

It came after Mr Justice John Hedigan dismissed four other separate claims of defamation, false imprisonment, unlawful arrest and breach of her constitutional rights.

The court has heard the case arose out of a false allegation made by a second-year student against Ms O'Hara, who was in Junior Cert year in 2004. The girl made up a story that Ms O'Hara was the ringleader of three girls extorting €20 a week from her in the bike shed over six months.

After the girl's mother made a complaint to the school and also told the principal she had been in touch with the gardai, it was agreed gardai could come to the school where, Ms O'Hara's lawyers allege, a "sting" operation was set up.

The court heard that on March 9, 2004, Ms O'Hara had gone to the principal's office looking to go home early as she was feeling unwell. She left her schoolbag on the floor outside the principal's office and while she was away from it, the accuser placed a €20 note underneath it, she says.

Ms O'Hara says her life was ruined when she was brought into the principal's office, after she was told to pick up the €20 off the floor, and accused of extortion. Sergeant John Healy, gave her the standard caution and her parents were called.

Some hours later Sgt Healy arrived at her home to tell her she was owed an apology as the accuser had admitted making up the extortion story.

The trial continues.

Irish Independent

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