Wednesday 18 September 2019

Experts had warned school that teacher posed child sex-abuse risk

The case will return to the court in October when final orders are expected to be made. Stock Image
The case will return to the court in October when final orders are expected to be made. Stock Image
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Experts warned a school that a religion teacher posed a potential risk of child sexual abuse - several years before he was accused of smacking a teenage pupil's bottom and making inappropriate comments to her.

The teacher won a High Court challenge against Tusla, the child and family agency, earlier this week quashing findings that his actions amounted to child sexual abuse.

The court found he had not been afforded fair procedures.

Years earlier an assessment by the Granada Institute, a sex offender treatment centre, raised concerns about the potential risk the teacher posed to children.

Despite this, the man, who cannot be named, continued to teach for several years until he was suspended over the bottom slapping claim.

The secondary school teacher was referred to the Granada Institute by his school's board of management following an allegation in 2011 that he was "overly familiar" and rubbed a female pupil's leg at a school musical.

The referral was made after an inquiry found no evidence of sexual abuse but expressed concerns about the teacher's professional conduct and lack of boundaries.

A report by the institute subsequently said "he represented a potential risk of child sexual abuse" and recommended he receive ongoing psychological support.

He received individual counselling and support from a psychological services director and continued to teach after the 2011 incident, but has been suspended since the bottom smacking allegation was made in December 2015.

The schoolgirl alleged it occurred as she was leaving the classroom to speak to another teacher. She said that when she sought permission to leave, the teacher had said: "Stop calling me. My wife is getting worried."

The schoolgirl also alleged that weeks beforehand she had been going to her locker when the teacher stopped her and whispered in her ear: "Call me tonight at 10.30. I've the house to myself."

Quizzed by a Tusla social worker, the teacher said other students were entering the classroom as she was leaving and it was quite possible that she brushed up against him, but he did not slap her.

The teacher also claimed that any conversation he had with the schoolgirl was of "a jovial nature".

He told the social worker he would be having "a bit of banter" and would have said: "Stop ringing me at home. My wife is getting worried." He accepted that he should not have made such a comment, but said the girl was in the presence of other schoolgirls at the time and there was no sexual intent on his behalf.

Tusla concluded what had occurred represented child sexual abuse, a finding upheld by an appeals panel.

However, earlier this week the High Court quashed those findings after concluding the teacher had been denied fair procedures.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan found Tusla persisted with a version of the allegation that had been unsupported by the teenager's written statement.

The judge also said Tusla had not put the teacher's version of what happened to the girl for comment.

He said that in reaching its conclusions, Tusla had taken into account the 2011 allegations without giving any sufficient weight to the fact that there was a finding of no evidence of child sexual abuse.

The case will return to the court in October when final orders are expected to be made. It is unclear if the teacher will face further action following the ruling.

A Garda investigation led to a criminal case in the District Court, but the prosecution failed. The matter had been expected to go before the Teaching Council prior to the legal challenge being mounted.

Details of the Granada Institute report findings were detailed in Mr Justice Meenan's written judgment.

The judge noted, however, that the report itself never appeared in evidence before the court. The judgment also detailed how the psychological services director said that despite all the work that had been undertaken with the teacher, she had been concerned about him prior to the 2015 allegation.

She said the teacher had come upon a girl in school who had injured her leg and he had immediately got involved rather than waiting for other staff.

The director also said that he covered the windows in his classroom to block out glaring sunlight, with the effect that no one could see in.

This was a cause of concern to the school and immediately remedied.

She said that as a result of the ongoing concerns it was agreed by the school that the teacher not be left in a position of being alone with children.

Mr Justice Meenan said these events were never put to the teacher and this was a clear and inexcusable departure from fair procedures.

Irish Independent

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