Abuse-charge teacher back in class

27th September 1996 at 01:00
An Irish teacher who was found guilty of touching the breasts of five girls in school is back at work.

The teacher was offically reprimanded by the minister for education, Niamh Bhreathnach, and has had two annual pay rises "docked". The minister has also ordered that his future teaching activities be monitored.

He had been suspended on full pay pending the outcome of a sworn inquiry into allegations of "inappropriate sexual touching". A ministry official concluded that he had touched the breasts of each of the five pupils who gave evidence.

The official concluded that the teacher's "persistent method of approach and touching did amount to the harassment of these five girls by him".

The girls became distressed, and had genuine feelings of being touched "with improper motives".

The teacher did not exercise due care or take into full account the sensitivities and feelings of the girls in moving them from their work or assisting them. However, the inspector said he could not conclude beyond reasonable doubt that there was a sexual motive. Therefore, he did not conclude that the contacts amounted to sexual abuse.

The inquiry was unusual in several respects and has led to much soul-searching among educationists and journalists. During the sworn inquiry the five girls were cross-examined by the teacher's legal representative, appointed by his trade union. The girls, however, had no legal representation and some were said to have been distressed by the questioning. This has led to calls by the National Parents' Council for a different form of inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse against teachers.

The inquiry was held in camera, but the main findings were leaked to the media.

Initially the teacher was not named, but subsequently he was identified and a photograph of his home appeared in one Sunday newspaper. The school where he worked was also named.

The identification of the teacher and his school has angered the union, which says he was cleared of the main allegations of abuse and that he had suffered enough during his suspension without being pilloried by the media.

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