Retired teacher Leo Hickey jailed for sexual abuse: 'My life stopped when I went into this classroom'

Retired teacher Leo Hickey jailed for sexual abuse: 'My life stopped when I went into this classroom'
Leo Hickey being led from the courthouse on Washington Street, Cork City.

A 77-year-old retired primary school teacher was jailed today for sexually abusing a nine-year-old school boy eight times in the early 1990s, writes Liam Heylin.

Leo Hickey of Realt Na Mara, Skevanish, Innishannon, County Cork, was sentenced to three years with the last two years suspended.

The sentence was backdated to February when a jury convicted him of all the sexual assault counts at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Hickey had denied all of the offences. The victim said of his time in fourth class with Leo Hickey, “It was living hell.”

The injured party, Daniel Kelleher of 32 Rosewood, Ballincollig, County Cork, waived his anonymity when Hickey was convicted of the eight counts of sexual assault committed between November 1991 and June 1992 at Scoil Eoin boys national school in Ballincollig, County Cork.

Defence barrister, John Devlin, described his client as a figure of some notoriety in the state.

Detective Garda Donal O’Connell said there was a previous investigation of Leo Hickey when he was a principal at Dunderrow national school in County Cork where he was charged with 387 counts of indecent assault. On June 25, 1998 he pleaded guilty to 21 sample charges and was sentenced to one year on each, the first three to run consecutively, and the remainder concurrently.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said he would have considered a fully suspended sentence on Hickey in the present case if he had pleaded guilty. The judge noted that the accused was almost 78 and living a somewhat secluded life with his wife.

Mr Devlin BL said of the Dunderrrow case, “The national attention has attracted a certain amount of opprobrium.”

Judge Ó Donnabháin said the accused could not be blamed for the delay in bringing the present case. The judge also said that the victim referred to a lot of problems he had suffered in his life but the judge said he could not put all of these entirely at the door of the accused.

He said the defendant’s actions were disgraceful and there was no doubting that.

Mr Kelleher was overcome with emotion in Feburary when the jury agreed unanimously that Hickey was guilty of the eight sexual assaults.

The complainant said it happened a number of times that the defendant gave him a note to be taken to another teacher and that when he was returning to class the defendant would sexually assault him in the toilet. He said the defendant would touch his (the boy’s) penis and get him to touch his (the defendant’s) penis and move it up and down.

He said there were other incidents as well. “It happened up in the pitch, outside the class, inside the class. Every day it was like pressure, it was tension not knowing if something was going to happen. I refused to go back in. They moved me to another class.”

He said on one occasion Leo Hickey got him to carry a bundle of hurleys and touched his penis as he was walking across the pitch. He said he dropped the hurleys and ran back to the classroom.

Mr Devlin challenged him on whether he was 9 or 11 as both ages were used in different statements. The complainant said, “If I made a mistake about my age saying 8 or 9 or 10 or 11, I apologise. I had to live with it but I also had to block it out. My life stopped when I went into this classroom,” the complainant said.

Leo Hickey said he did not have any specific recollection of the complainant. He described himself as an old-fashioned teacher with an emphasis on music.

Hickey was asked about allegedly putting the complainant’s tin whistle down his pants outside the classroom, taking it out and telling the boy to play it or else he would get lines. Hickey said there was no way he would leave 30 children alone during a tin whistle class to bring one boy out of the classroom and that it did not happen.

Imelda Kelly, prosecution barrister, suggested to the accused that he gave the boy notes to bring to other teachers as a ruse to isolate him so that he could sexually assault him in the toilets on the way back.

The defendant said, “I did not sexually assault him. I never brought any boy to the toilet. What reason would I have for bringing a boy to the toilet?”

On the question of remembering the complainant, Leo Hickey said, “If he was very troublesome or backward or very clever I might remember him but it seems he was very much average so I have no recollection of him.”

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