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Court Order Quashes Report on Allegation of Sexual Abuse against Retired Teacher

Irish Times, 19 November, 2010

A RETIRED teacher has secured a High Court order quashing a report by the HSE into an allegation that she sexually abused a nine-year-old pupil in the early 1990s. It was alleged the teacher had inappropriately touched the boy when he went to the toilet on a number of occasions.

Described by her counsel as one of the most sought-after teachers working with children with particular special needs, the woman, now aged 70, had denied the allegation.

The High Court, which has ordered that nothing should be published which would identify the complainant in the case, found yesterday the teacher was not afforded fair procedures by the Health Service Executive in relation to its report and was entitled to have her good name and right to earn a livelihood protected.

The teacher claimed the HSE acted unreasonably or irrationally in the way in which the report was compiled in not giving her an opportunity to respond to the allegation. She alleged a fundamental failure to comply with basic fair procedures. She also argued that the HSE decision to notify the Garda of the allegation should be quashed because that was done without first properly or adequately assessing or investigating the reliability of the complaint.

The HSE denied those claims and argued it had a statutory duty to investigate the allegation to protect the welfare of children. It also argued it had a duty to notify the Garda about the matter.

The court heard the teacher worked as a visiting teacher to schools around the country and was “head-hunted” in 2008 for a position in a school.

In December 2008, she was told there were “administrative issues” over that position but she only learned “through the grapevine” about the allegation against her.

She was refused any detailed information about the allegation. It was only at a second meeting that she was told the identity of the complainant, who is now 25, she claimed. She vehemently denied the allegation, but in two reports drawn up by the HSE, there was no mention of those denials. The final HSE report contained four recommendations, one of which was for the HSE to formally notify the Garda of the allegation, the court heard.

In his judgment allowing the teacher’s challenge, Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe said the initial report was a “one-sided presentation of the facts”.

He also ruled that when preparing the second and final report, the HSE ought to have engaged fully with the teacher as she had requested, so as to protect her good name and also as part of the investigation process.

At the time the allegation was made, the teacher was subject to a pre-screening process before taking up the position being offered to her, Mr Justice O’Keeffe said.

The HSE had a duty before any interview to furnish her with notice of allegations and to give her a reasonable opportunity to carry out further investigations that might be appropriate in light of information furnished by her in response to the complaints.

In those circumstances, the judge made an order quashing the second and final report of the HSE. He was not prepared to make an order quashing the decision to notify gardaí.