Principal in prefab row 'vindicated' after four-year legal battle
A SCHOOL principal forced to resign after his neighbour falsely accused him of stealing a prefab school building said last night that he had finally been vindicated following a four-year legal battle.
John Hand is to receive a six-figure settlement in damages from his neighbour.
Declan McKeever a farmer from Antylstown, Navan, Co Meath, wrongly accused Mr Hand of taking a prefab from his former school in Navan to his home nearby without payment or permission.
Last night, Mr Hand said he was glad the nightmare was finally over after a settlement was reached at the High Court.
Mr McKeever apologised in court and agreed to pay him "substantial damages" and court costs.
The same apology appears in today's Irish Independent, in which Mr McKeever "acknowledges that Mr Hand is and was at all material times a person of the highest honesty and integrity and that Mr Hand was an excellent teacher at and principal of St Oliver's NS."
"I'm happy that my good name has been vindicated," the principal, now in charge at Gaelscoil Dhroichead Na Banndan, in Bandon in Cork, told the Irish Independent.
"It's caused me a lot grief over the past four years. I've got a wife and five kids and I'm looking forward to getting on with my life."
He said the allegation made against him was "false and completely without foundation. I am pleased and relieved that my good name, reputation and standing as a national school principal have been affirmed.
"To make an unfounded allegation against any person is serious, but when the individual involved is a primary school principal, the consequences are far-reaching and extremely damaging."
Mr Hand was principal of St Oliver Plunkett's National School in Navan, Co Meath, from 1997 until last year.
But he claimed he was forced to resign under a cloud of suspicion due to the allegations and he had trouble finding a job, before eventually securing his current post in Bandon.
He sued Mr McKeever for defamation after the farmer alleged that Mr Hand in 2001 asked him to use his machinery to move the prefab from the school to Mr Hand's home without paying the board of management for it and without its consent or knowledge.
Mr Hand claimed that he bought the prefab for €1,750 in December 2001 through a supplier of prefabs to schools.
Mr McKeever had denied that his allegations meant, among other things, that Mr Hand was guilty of a criminal act and of dishonesty.
In his action, Mr Hand said he was the subject of several disciplinary charges brought against him in 2008 by the manager of St Oliver's, Fr Brendan Ludlow, the most serious of which related to the moving of the prefab.
Fr Ludlow held a disciplinary hearing based solely on Mr McKeever's evidence, in which he decided that Mr Hand had unlawfully taken the prefab from the school to his house.
He recommended his dismissal to the Bishop of Meath, but Mr Hand instead resigned in January 2011.