Call for inquiry into alleged sex abuse at Limerick school in 1950s

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

Email:

anne.sheridan@limerickleader.ie

Call for inquiry into alleged sex abuse at Limerick school in 1950s

The men, both aged 73, are among five complainants who provided written statements to gardai [picture posed]

PENSIONERS who claim they were sexually abused as children by a teacher at a Limerick school, whom they describe as a “monster”, have called for an inquiry into why he has not been prosecuted.

Five complainants, now aged in their early 70s, provided written statements to gardai outlining allegations of sexual abuse and physical assaults by a teacher, who cannot be named for legal reasons, in Limerick city in the late 1950s.

The teacher later went on to become principal of a school in the Mid-West and has since retired.

One of the complainants has since passed away and another is in ill health. A fifth made allegations of physical but not sexual assault.

Two of the alleged victims are now urging the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to conduct an inquiry into the case, after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) directed that no prosecution be brought. 

They said they were left “devastated” when they learned of the DPP’s decision in 2012, and want “justice to be served before we die, or he [the teacher] dies.”

The men are now seeking a new investigation by a different Garda division, and have also queried what “specific recommendations” were sent by gardai in Limerick along with the file to the DPP.

“I feel that something extraordinary happened with this case; that a massive injustice was done to us. I have repeatedly asked them for this injustice to be put right. What is the point of being Minister for Justice if they can’t administer justice?” one questioned.

One of the complainants, who has written in excess of 20 letters to various authorities on the case, said he feels that each authority contacted has “hidden behind a veil of confidentiality”.

In his statement to gardai, which was taken at Mayorstone garda station in Limerick on July 8, 2011, the complainant outlined that his teacher would sit beside him and ask him to show him his homework.

“When he would sit down beside me, he would put his hand up my shorts and touch my penis. He would masturbate me for maybe five or so minutes while pretending to be watching me do sums or show him my homework,” he alleged.

“I was afraid to say anything. This was a regular occurrence and he would do this to me very often, sometimes day after day. He would move around the class and do the same to other boys immediately after leaving me. He was also very violent and would beat us for the smallest reason.

“He also used a leather strap. I don't know how many times he assaulted me sexually but it lasted as long as I was in his class. I never really spoke to any of the boys in the class about it.

“We were terrified of him. I can remember the air of fear that would come over the class when he entered the classroom and the relief when he left the room,” he told gardai.

He said he eventually decided to make an official complaint – decades later - “because this has played on my mind all my life."

“As a result of what happened me I was very careful and anxious in the upbringing of my own children. I didn’t trust anybody really since that happened to me.”

In an additional statement to gardai at Mayorstone in November 2011, he was asked why he hadn't made a complaint earlier. 

He said that he was not aware his former teacher was still alive, met him and “confronted him about what he had done to me.” 

An official with Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s office wrote to him this March and again in April, stating that the minister “appreciates the very serious nature of the matters, which you raised and is conscious of the trauma suffered by victims of sexual offences.

“She has asked me to convey her sincere sympathy in relation to your experiences,” it read.

The Tanaiste’s office stated that it has “no role in the investigation, prosecution or trial of alleged offences and it is not open to her to intervene in individual cases."

“It is the Tanaiste’s legal position, rather than a lack of empathy on her part, that prevents her from intervening in the manner you are seeking,” states the letter.

Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan, head of the Limerick garda division, outlined that complaints were made by three men in June, July and November 2011.

A fourth complainant was later identified and a formal criminal complaint of sexual assault from that person was included in the investigation.

A fifth complainant was also identified and that person alleged physical assault, but not sexual assault, claiming that he and others in the class were beaten with “leathers, drumsticks and the legs of chairs.”

Chief Supt Sheahan, in a letter sent to one of the complainants, said the suspected offender was interviewed on two separate occasions, and during the course of the investigation, legal and procedural guidance was sought from and provided by the State solicitor for Limerick city.

He said the file was sent with “specific recommendations” to the office of the DPP, which is standard practice.

Chief Supt Sheahan said he is “unaware of the reasons” why the DPP directed that no prosecution be issued, and said disclosing or withholding such reasoning is a matter solely for the DPP.

Chief Supt Sheahan said school records for the period were obtained and examined, “but such records were in poor condition.”

One of the alleged victims who has obtained the same records strenuously rejects this.

He said that the documents are clearly legible and could help identify all pupils in the class, whom he feels should have been contacted by gardai as part of their investigation.

But Chief Supt Sheahan said that gardai "for reasons of sensitivity, will not approach any suspected, alleged or possible victim of sexual abuse without an initial direct approach being made by that person to gardai."

“The principal objective of An Garda Siochana’s position is to ensure that no further stress or pain is caused by Garda actions,” wrote Chief Supt Sheahan.

He outlined that he could make a formal complaint to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission, but when the complainant took this option he said he was informed by that office that is was too late to do so.

The Director of Public Prosecution’s office, in correspondence to one of the alleged victims, stated that it would not be appropriate to discuss in detail the material furnished by An Garda Siochana to its office.

“It would, in any event, serve no useful purpose. The file was considered when initially submitted and a decision made not to prosecute.”

The DPP’s office outlined that the file was further reviewed in 2012 and again in November 2015.

The office acknowledged that the decision must be “disappointing and upsetting”, but stressed that the decision was “only made after careful consideration of all the available evidence.”

One of the complainants has initiated High Court proceedings for damages against his former teacher, but said he does not have the finances to advance his claim through the court.

He is seeking damages for allegations of sexual assault, child sex abuse, assault, false imprisonment, inflection of emotional suffering, psychological injuries, nervous shock and other damages.