Limerick Courthouse, Mulgrave Street
A BUS driver who had “an inappropriate relationship” with a 16-year-old school girl, has been found not guilty of sexual assault after he was accused of lifting up her dress.
The bus driver and the complainant, now aged 17, appeared at Limerick District Court before Judge Brian O’Shea, and gave evidence in relation to the alleged incident which occurred outside a school in April 2019.
Though he dismissed the charge, Judge O’Shea said that the bus driver had “fostered an inappropriate relationship with this female child”.
Giving her statement to a specialist garda interviewer, the complainant said she had ran to the bus after practice for a school musical as she was “afraid of missing the bus”.
She was wearing a dress “just above the knee”, according to her statement which was played in court on a DVD.
When she got on the bus, the bus driver allegedly “looked at me up and down” and “gave me the eyebrows”. She claimed that the bus driver caught the hem of her dress, “pulled it up and goes ‘Oh look, what’s that?’”.
She claimed that his “finger glided along my leg as he lifted it up”. She told the garda that she “got frightened and ran”.
After she sat down “midway on the bus”, the bus driver “stood up and was looking down at me”, she told the garda in April 2019.
She told the garda: “My friend said to me: ‘I wouldn’t leave that go if I were you’. I said: ‘I don’t think I will.’”
The court heard that the friend, a male witness, was behind her on the bus when the incident allegedly took place. She said, on previous occasions, the bus driver made comments such as “Oh look, you’re looking well” and that he “tried to grab my hand” on a number of occasions.
In a statement to gardai and in court, the bus driver denied these allegations.
She said that she was “bawling crying” when she told her mother.
The complainant appeared in court after there were technical difficulties with the videolink. Judge O’Shea said that he didn’t want the minor “to be pressured, in any way, to give viva voce evidence”.
In cross-examination, the defending barrister asked if she had discussed the issue with anyone else, to which she replied: “No, I sat in silence”.
She told the court that she changed from her skirt to her school uniform while she was on the bus.
Both accused and complainant agreed that there had been previously an element of “banter” between the two. The claimant agreed that she may have said “How are your things?” in conversation with the bus driver, when asked by the barrister.
The barrister said that the bus driver would have said in reply: “Jesus, you can’t be saying that to me. I might lose my job.”
The barrister put it to the complainant that her client denied that there was anyone behind her on the bus. The complainant told the court that the bus driver allegedly reached for the right hand side of the skirt with his left hand.
“I felt absolutely assaulted the minute it happened,” she told the court.
The male witness, also aged 17, told the court he saw the accused “flung up” the girl’s skirt and that he could see her underwear.
“She said to me: ‘Did you see what happened? It wasn’t right.’ I said ‘yeah’,” he told the court.
He said that she put on her school uniform while on the bus and that “she didn’t feel comfortable”.
When asked what part of the dress the bus driver allegedly caught, he said that it would have been on the “left side” with his right hand.
In cross-examination, the barrister questioned the complainant and the witness on when they discussed the case and the incident.
The alleged victim said the incident was “never spoken of” between her and the witness, to which the barrister said “I find that hard to believe”.
She said that “it’s not something you would be discussing at school”, to which the barrister said she found it “incredible” that it was not discussed. She said: “We never had a full conversation”.
The girl said there was some discussion via Snapchat. When asked what they discussed, she said when they were posting their statements, he said he couldn’t remember the colour of her underwear, and that “he was a bit nervous” in case he was asked in court.
She told the court that they had sent each other a Snapchat on Tuesday night, but could not remember “exactly” what was said. After being questioned about this, she said that he said he was “nervous”.
The barrister asked the male witness when was the last time they spoke about the case, to which he said “two days ago” on Snapchat.
“What was in the Snapchat?” the barrister asked, to which the boy replied: “I can’t think what I said.” Judge Brian O’Shea said: “You must tell the truth, even if it’s a little bit awkward.”
The barrister asked: “Did she text you or did you text her?” He said he didn’t know, adding that he “didn’t know the detail of what was said”. After further cross-examination, the boy said that they talked about his being “nervous”.
The barrister asked: “Did you ask anything about the proposed evidence about what you were going to say today?” He said “no”.
“At any point, did you ask [the complainant] what she said to gardai?” the barrister asked, to which he said “no”.
The investigating sergeant said the bus driver, who has no previous convictions, was “fully cooperative” when he gave a statement at the garda station, and that he was “consistent in his denial”.
Denying all allegations, the bus driver said that he could not have touched the girl as he demonstrated to the court, folding his arms: “I sit like this”. When asked about this, he replied: “So I won’t be accused of anything.”
He said he had stood up and looked back “to see if she was okay.” The inspector put it to the accused that he touched the girl’s leg, to which he said: “I definitely did not.”
The barrister said that the State had not proven their case beyond reasonable doubt, and that there were “inconsistencies” between both accounts.
“There’s huge issue about the credibility of both these witnesses,” the barrister stated, adding that “the inconsistencies were much too significant to gloss over”. The prosecuting inspector said, with regards the “inconsistencies”, that “the general story is the same”.
Judge O’Shea said that he could not record a “safe conviction” and that he was dismissing the charge, and that there were “inconsistencies” between the accounts in relation to the alleged assault.
Speaking to the reporters after the case was dismissed, the accused said: “I am delighted it’s over and done with.”