Friday 19 January 2018

Former teacher awarded €700,000 after he was wrongly accused of sexually abusing pupil

Tim Healy

A FORMER teacher has been awarded €700,000 after he sued the HSE for damages over an inquiry into allegations he sexually abused a pupil.

The teacher was clearly targeted by the Area Health Board and the HSE and the victim of targeted malice in the conduct of the investigation, said Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill in the High Court.

Mr Justice O'Neill said he was satisfied that the malfeasance in public office of the HSE had the consequence of destroying irreparably the life which the secondary-school teacher enjoyed in all its aspects, professional, social and domestic.

"Whilst the judgments of this court must go some considerable distance in redressing the wrong done to the applicant, the life he has lost to date cannot be restored and in the future will not be adequately repaired," the judge said.

In the absence of any adequate or proper vindication of his reputation out of the HSE inquiry, the judge said, the teacher- who cannot be named - will have to live with the consequences of the HSE's wrongdoing for the remainder of his life.

Awarding a total of €736,984, Mr Justice O'Neill said the teacher endured extraordinarily high levels of stress and great mental anguish and suffering through the entire period of the inquiry.

Although the inquiry is now closed, the judge said the teacher is understandably dissatisfied with the outcome because it does not vindicate him and he is left with the residual apprehension that it is always open to the HSE to recommence the investigation.

The case arose out of an allegations made by a former pupil. An American counsellor acting for the boy notified the area health board that he had made "a verbal outcry of sexual abuse" by the teacher at his former Irish school.

The court heard a social worker notified the teacher of the allegation, which he denied, and when he also sought exact details of the allegations, he was not given them by them by the health board involved.

The boy, now 24 years of age, never made a formal statement to gardai and as a result, the DPP directed no prosecution could be taken.

The former teacher was suspended on administrative leave by his school in 2006 and he was reinstated in 2007, after he took legal proceedings.

He never returned to work and later sought orders from the High Court restraining the HSE from continuing an investigation into him which it had reactivated after conducting an interview with the boy in July 2007. The High Court ruled in 2010 the investigation could continue.

Mr Justice O'Neill said a report of March 2006 which lead to the teacher being removed from his post and placed on administrative leave fell far short of an honest attempt by the HSE to discharge its duty.

"The documentary evidence in this case demonstrates forcibly that from the outset of this investigation its outcome was always pre judged or determined and the investigation was conducted in a manner calculated to ensure that the pre determined concluding would not be deflected or disturbed by any meaningful input by the applicant."

Mr Justice O'Neill said in effect the allegations were accepted as true from the outset and the local health board and the HSE at every step of the investigation "sheltered these allegations from appropriate scrutiny, thereby ensuring the applicant did not escape his fate as a child sex abuser, as they saw it."

There was, the judge said evident throughout the inquiry "a perverse calculated effort" on the part of the area health board and the HSE to give effect to their prejudgment that the allegations were true.

The HSE and the local area health board, the judge said, conducted the investigation in a manner that was grossly reckless in every respect.

Having endured the humiliation of being placed on administrative leave in 2006, and the dire social consequences that resulted from that the teacher, Mr Justice O'Neill said, was absolutely right to refuse to resume his teaching post while the investigation was ongoing.

"No human being could be expected to face the same experience again," the judge said

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