03 Oct 2022

Retired teacher fails to overturn conviction for sexually assaulting student

Retired teacher fails to overturn conviction for sexually assaulting student

A retired teacher has failed in an attempt to overturn a conviction for sexually assaulting one of his students.

Lawyers for the now 80-year-old man told the three-judge court that there was no evidence in relation to five of the eight counts on which he was convicted and that in relation to the other three there was evidence that gave rise to a reasonable doubt.

John Devlin SC, for the appellant, said the judge had not adequately summarised the defence case before sending the jury out and noted that the jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court took just over one hour to convict on all counts.

The victim said during the trial that the teacher abused him more than 20 times in a classroom, toilets, a corridor and school yard while he was in fourth class. He said the abuse started when the teacher touched his neck and back inside his shirt during class and progressed to sexual abuse. He said the teacher would send him out of class with notes for other teachers and then follow him out. The teacher would then make him go into a toilet where the abuse would happen. 

Mr Devlin argued that the jury's decision was "perverse" given that the victim gave specific details only in relation to three incidents whereas his client was convicted on eight counts.

In relation to two of those, he said, the victim said the teacher abused him in a corridor outside the classroom and in a nearby toilet. The accused had said at trial that the corridor was in full view of a remedial teacher who would have seen if any abuse took place or if a teacher went into the toilet with a student.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham interrupted, saying: "These are all points to be made to the jury. At the end of the day the complainant was resolute, he didn’t resile from it, so the issue is to be decided by the jury and is that not the end of the matter."

He further put it to Mr Devlin that he was asking the appeal court to "substitute our view for that of a jury", which, the judge said, is not allowed under Irish law.

Mr Devlin said he was asking the court to look at all the evidence, which he said would show that the jury's verdict was perverse.

Delivering judgment Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said that it is only in "exceptional" cases that the Court of Appeal will find that a verdict is perverse and quash it on those grounds. She said the credibility of the complainant's evidence is "manifestly for the jury's determination" and that the fact the teacher disagrees does not make the verdict perverse.

She said the complainant had said where the incidents occurred, had described the nature of the abuse and said it happened on a "regular basis" during a particular school year. She said the evidence was that the teacher took opportunities to abuse the child when they presented themselves.

She disagreed that there was a "paucity of evidence" and dismissed the complaint about the length of time the jury spent deliberating. "The manner of coming to a verdict is entirely within the province of the jury," she said.

She pointed out that the evidence in the trial took only one day and the jury had asked the judge to re-read the evidence given by the accused and the complainant, which the judge did.

She concluded: "This does not even approach the type of case where the Court would set aside a verdict."

Ms Justice Kennedy further dismissed the complaint that in his charge to the jury the trial judge had not adequately summarised the defence case. She said the Court takes the "contrary view", adding: "The charge was entirely balanced and fair. There is no basis to say it was an unsatisfactory trial or that the conviction is unsafe."

The teacher has already served his sentence for the abuse having been convicted in 2017.

Ms Justice Kennedy was sitting with Mr Justice Birmingham and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy.

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