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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Former deputy principal jailed for 18 months for possessing and distributing child abuse images

Brian Fitzgerald (49) of Golf Links Road, Youghal, Co Cork pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

A FORMER DEPUTY principal of a primary school who pleaded guilty to four counts of distributing child pornography has been jailed for 18 months for what the judge called a “heinous’ crime.

Brian Fitzgerald (49) of Golf Links Road, Youghal, Co Cork pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to one count of possession of child pornography on 6 May, 2017.

The four distribution charges to which he pleaded guilty occurred on 26 February, 3 March, and 2 and 18 April of that year. The offences related to his previous address at Meadowlands, Youghal on various dates in 2017.

Sergeant Mark Ward said the offences came to light in early 2017 when the Garda National Protective Services Unit raised the alarm.

Fitzgerald was logging on to a child porn website using the internet username ‘Schoolteacher’.

On 6 May 2017 he was arrested by gardai in connection with the offences, He denied any wrongdoing and was released without charge. A search of his computers was carried out.

On  25 May 2018 a further warrant was obtained for his arrest. When questioned for a second time he cooperated fully with gardaí and made admissions about his wrongdoing.

Sergeant Ward said the child porn involved 555 category one images and 1,162 videos.

Category one images involve children under the age of 17 engaged in sexual activity with other children or adults.

Images and videos

The former teacher was found to have 529 category two images and 1,018 videos. This category involves children under the age of eighteen with their genitalia exposed.

He said Fitzgerald also distributed 53 images to other persons over the internet. He was unable to say which category these fell in to but stated the distribution of same had led to investigations in Germany, the US and the UK.

Judge Sean O’Donnabhain heard that Fitzgerald is a single man without previous convictions.

He lives with his elderly mother whom he cares for and has worked as a primary school teacher for 26 years. He is a former deputy principal.

Barrister Stephen O’Donoghue BL said his client went on sick leave shortly after his first arrest. He has since lost his job. He said Fitzgerald was deeply remorseful for his actions.

He is resigned to the fact that he will never teach again having derived great joy from a job he loved. Fitzgerald has been attending a psychotherapist since the matters came to light and has received a degree of insight in to the fact that it is not a victimless crime.

O’Donoghue appealed for leniency in the case saying that his client was of previous good character and had entered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity.

He said Fitzgerald realises that children have been damaged because of his actions.

Judge O’Donnabhain said it was “a heinous matter”.

He stressed that society can never tolerate a crime in which children are exploited.

Genuinely remorseful 

The judge said he accepted that Fitzgerald was genuinely remorseful and had some degree of insight in to his actions but he said a custodial sentence was merited in the case.

He jailed the former deputy principal for three years with the last 18 months suspended.

Judge O’Donnabhain said it wasn’t a victimless crime whilst expressing shock at how easy it is to access images.

“This vile material is available at the touch of a button. Obviously that is wrong. It is remarkable that these sites are so easily accessible,” he said.

Speaking outside the court Superintendent Colm Noonan reassured parents in East Cork that none of the images originated in Ireland.

“I am satisfied that were before the court do not relate to children in Ireland. The investigation came to light arising from the Garda National Protection Services Bureau who instigated the investigation,” he said.

Noonan said An Garda Siochana are working closely with Tusla and the school where the man worked to assist any parents who have any concerns arising from this investigation.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank our colleagues in the Garda National Protective Services Bureau, the investigating gardaí and the Garda National Cyber Crime bureau for the extensive work that was carried out in bringing this case to a conclusion,” he said.

Olivia Kelleher