Court overturns teacher's sex abuse conviction

A retired school teacher succeeded today in overturning his conviction for sexually abusing a former pupil more than 40 years ago.

The Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the man’s conviction for 10 counts of indecent assault, and said it was not directing a retrial as the man had served the sentence imposed on him.

In May 2009, the man, who is in his 60s, was jailed for 18 months after a jury at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court found him guilty of indecently assaulting a child at a primary school.

The boy was aged between seven and 10 years old when the abuse was alleged to have taken place between July 1966 and June 1970.

It was claimed the assaults occurred “in the public arena of the classroom” while the victim was in first, second and fourth class.

Today's appeal heard arguments from lawyers representing the man who said their client’s three-day trial should have been “halted” when difficulties emerged with the testimony of a person, alleged to have “viewed the activity” complained of.

This testimony was put forward by the Prosecution as “collaborate evidence” but it had “a toxic effect”, as “significant differences” emerged between this person’s account of alleged events and that of the complainant’s.

“Who was in what class”, at time the alleged offences occurred was also “crucial” the court heard.

Mr Paul McDermott SC, for the man, said “it turned out” the “witness” was in an "alternative first and second class” and went through 4th class in the school’s main building and not in a prefabricated building where the complainant claimed the alleged abuse took place.

It was argued that in light of the “significant differences” it was “unfair” to allow the trial to proceed.

The court also heard that “insufficient” regard was given in the judge’s charge to factors involved in cases where there is a delay of the kind involved here.

The Director of Public Prosecutions opposed yesterday’s appeal.

Counsel for the State, said the witnesses inconsistent evidence “caused enormous difficulty for the Prosecution” but that ultimately the “unshakeable” testimony of the alleged victim was the “central plank” of its case.

Overturning the conviction today, the three-judge court said the evidence of the witness severely damaged” the State’s case but that it would be “difficult” for it “to second guess” or to “interfere now” with the judge’s assessment that it was fair to allow the trial continue.

However, it said a “key component” of “old cases” was that the Prosecution should not benefit from the delay, and that the jury must recognise the “high difficulty” the defence has in such circumstances.

The court found that although the charge was “fair” in how it set out the facts and did not necessarily fall short, “taking all the matters” of the case “into consideration” it was not sufficient to bring to the jury’s attention the particular difficulties of this case.

The court said it would not be directing that a retrial take place.

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