Monday 5 December 2016

School caretaker accused of stealing fruit from lunches for disadvantaged pupils

Andrew Phelan

Published 27/01/2016 | 17:16

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Stock photo

A SCHOOL caretaker has been accused of stealing fruit from lunches for disadvantaged pupils that had been delivered as part of a healthy eating scheme.

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Thomas Byrne (55) is alleged to have taken bags of apples, oranges and bananas that were to have been given to children in a north Dublin primary school.

Mr Byrne, of Howth Road, Raheny is pleading not guilty to eight counts of theft at Scoil Fhursa, Cromcastle Green, Kilmore.

The thefts - of 12 bags of apples, 14 bags of oranges and five bags of bananas worth a total of €67.25 - are alleged to have happened on dates between February 24 and March 5, 2014.

Judge Ann Ryan adjourned the case for continued hearing on a later date at Dublin District Court.

School Principal Martin Stynes told the court the school was in a disadvantaged area and one initiative undertaken to allay this was the healthy eating scheme.

The initiative involved Dublin City Council, suppliers Glanmore Food and the Department of Health.

The food included individual, named packages of food and loose bags of fruit and milk. The Department of Health's element of the scheme encouraged children to sample pieces of cucumber, carrot or grapes to help “develop their palates.”

Free pencils, rulers or toys were given with this.

The caretaker was responsible for the distribution of the loose fruit after it was delivered.

The school began to notice irregularities in the supply of the DCC food, Mr Stynes continued.

He did not think much about that but it was highly unusual that there would be any fluctuation in the supply from the health board scheme “because we were really careful about the cost of it.”

When this was reported as well he made observations.

He said he asked school secretary Catherine Fowler to keep a record every morning, and asked Glanmore to be certain about what was provided in case any of the food “went astray.”

Mr Stynes said he asked the school board of management for advice. Mr Byrne was placed on administrative leave and Mr Stynes was told to carry out an internal investigation.

The board decided to dismiss the accused and the gardai were contacted.

In cross-examination by Kevin Fields BL, for the defence, Mr Stynes said CCTV recorded the deliveries at 4.45am and the motion-activated system shut down until Mr Byrne’s arrival at 7.30.

He accepted other people had access to the school’s alarm code - the secretary and senior teachers as well as the caretaker for neighbouring Scoil Ide.

He said leftover food would be thrown out if it was going off and kept for later if not. There was no policy or practice of people taking food themselves, he said.

“It’s a disadvantaged area, the food is supplied for the children. Somebody is paying for it, whether it is the Department of Health or the Department of Social Protection or Dublin City Council," Mr Stynes said.

“We can’t have an acceptance of it being OK or standard practice for people to eat the food that has been delivered for the children, or taking it home.”

“When I asked the caretaker over the years why the teachers were asking why do we have no bananas today, or not enough oranges, I was told: ‘some days we get more, some days we get less, you can’t depend on the deliveries’” Mr Stynes told Mr Fields.

“Given that this person was trusted in his area of work I took this person at his word,” he added.

The delivery man from Glenmore told the court “everything was counted” and if there was undelivered fruit it would be in the van. He said he did not leave dockets.

Evidence for the defence has not yet been heard in the case.

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