Wednesday 23 May 2018

Museum employee 'obsessed with tall women with long legs'

The National Museum, in Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke
The National Museum, in Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A National Museum of Ireland employee, currently suspended from duty amid concerns over his behaviour, downloaded hundreds of pictures of women onto his work computer.

Some of these images were manipulated by archaeologist Dr Andy Halpin to enhance the height of the women, in particular their legs, the High Court was told.

Oisín Quinn SC, a barrister for the museum, said Dr Halpin "appeared to have an obsession with tall women, and in particular women with long legs".

Details of the images were disclosed in proceedings brought by Dr Halpin seeking the lifting of his suspension, which was imposed last February. He is also seeking declarations the museum is not entitled to have him medically examined or to require him to undergo neuropsychological or psychiatric assessments.

At a hearing dealing with a preliminary issue regarding the discovery of medical records, the court heard Dr Halpin, an assistant keeper of Irish antiquities, was twice investigated over allegations of sexually harassing female colleagues.

He was disciplined in 2007 after the first of these investigations upheld the complaint against him, and attended counselling until 2011.

Mr Quinn said Dr Halpin advised the museum of his obsession with tall women and while this was something he could control when things were going well in his life, he relapsed whenever he was under stress.

Mr Quinn said a second allegation of harassment came to the museum's attention in February 2016 and Dr Halpin's computer was examined. The barrister said 700 images were found and that although three of the pictures were of naked women, the material was not classified as pornographic.

The court heard Dr Halpin cited the stress of dealing with management as a factor for his downloading of the material.

Ms Justice Marie Baker was told the woman in the second case did not make a formal complaint and did not participate in the investigation. Dr Halpin also disputed the allegation and an investigation report produced in March 2016 found there was no conclusive evidence to support it. However, it said the matter "legitimately raised a very relevant concern about Andy's behaviour and reputation".

As a result of the investigation report, Dr Halpin was issued with directions by the museum that he was to have no physical contact with colleagues above a normal handshake and that he was not to work alone with female colleagues or interns.

It was also directed that his internet access be withdrawn with the exception of a small number of official websites, that he seek professional assistance and that his performance be reviewed on a quarterly basis.

However, his internet access was not withdrawn and his performance was not reviewed.

Mr Quinn said that last February information came into the public domain about complaints of sexual harassment against Dr Halpin via an online blog and newspaper articles. He was not named in the articles.

However, the museum asked Dr Halpin to take a leave of absence on February 17, which he agreed to.

After a few days he "retreated from that" and decided he wanted to return to work. The museum then formally suspended him on February 28 and he has not returned to work since.

An email from the museum's head of operations, Seamus Lynam, said: "I have no doubt that the publication of these articles will by their very nature cause stress and anxiety and therefore, I consider it necessary to suspend you in order to prevent a repetition of the conduct previously complained of and to protect individuals at risk from such conduct."

Frank Callanan SC, for Dr Halpin, told the court the decision to suspend his client came after "a media hue and cry" and was "an unimaginable injustice" and "an extraordinary decision".

He said the central plank of his client's case was that complaints against him were dealt with in 2007 and 2016 and could not be revisited or be the subject of fresh disciplinary sanctions.

Ms Justice Baker said she would rule later on whether Dr Halpin should have to disclose medical records.

Irish Independent

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