Thursday 19 September 2019

Teacher accused of smacking female pupil’s bottom and making inappropriate comments wins High Court challenge

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Ray Managh

A teacher, accused of smacking a teenage pupil’s bottom and allegedly making inappropriate comments to her, has won a High Court challenge against a finding of Tusla that he had engaged in child sexual abuse.

He was also accused of, on the same day, having told the girl: “Stop calling me, my wife is getting worried.”

As she then attempted to leave the room he slapped her on her bottom in the presence of other pupils.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan, in quashing Tusla’s decision, said the girl also alleged her teacher had three times said to her: “Call me.”

The teacher denied her claims but said he may have accidentally come into contact with her.

Tusla’s finding of sexual abuse was upheld on appeal but Judge Meenan, in a reserved judgment, said the decision-making process by the child agency had been fundamentally and deeply flawed.

“The seriousness and consequences of such a finding against a teacher cannot be understated,” he said when quashing Tusla’s decision and that of the appeal hearing.

He said one would have expected that Tusla, in reaching its conclusion following an investigation of the complaint made in late 2015, would have afforded the teacher basic fair procedures.

Unfortunately this had been far from the case and the appeal committee, having had an opportunity to remedy the situation, had failed to do so. Tusla failed to observe “even the most basic rules of fair procedure”, said the judge.

Judge Meenan said the teacher, represented by Frank Callanan SC, brought judicial review proceedings against Tusla and the committee that heard his appeal, challenging the finding against him.

The judge said Tusla had persisted with a version of the allegation that had been unsupported by the teenager’s written statement. The agency had not put the teacher’s version of what happened to the girl for comment. This was a very clear and serious departure from fair procedures.

“I do not see how Tusla could have reached a fair conclusion about the truth of the allegation without taking this basic step,” Judge Meenan said.

It was noteworthy, he said, that a criminal prosecution against the teacher in the District Court had failed on the evidence of the girl herself.

The judge said in reaching its conclusions Tusla had taken into account another allegation made against the teacher in 2011, without attaching sufficient weight to the fact there had been a finding of no evidence of child sexual abuse made against him in the earlier incident.

In the 2011 incident another female pupil claimed the teacher sat beside her on a bus and made her uncomfortable by telling her he wished she was his daughter, and that he had previously rubbed her leg during a school musical.

The teacher denied improper physical conduct with that student but accepted he had said the words. An inquiry following the 2011 incident found there was no evidence of sexual abuse but expressed concern about the teacher’s lack of boundaries.

Judge Meenan said Tusla had taken other alleged events into account without having informed the teacher of this or having sought a response from him about these.

He said the appeal panel’s decision to the effect the teacher had been afforded fair procedures was “irrational”.

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