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Three years jail for former school principal who sexually abused seven pupils

Harte had pleaded not guilty and gave evidence during the trial in which he strenuously denied the allegations.

A FORMER SCHOOL principal convicted of sexually abusing seven of his pupils has been jailed for three years.

After a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last March, Patrick Harte (78) was convicted of 11 counts of indecently assaulting seven pupils at the Sancta Maria Christian Brothers primary school on Synge Street, Dublin between September 1968 and September 1970.

Following the sentencing today, outside the Criminal Courts of Justice building, Fr Tony Conlon, one of the victims who is now a Catholic priest, said he “hoped and prayed” this day would come.

Fr Conlon said that they had fought the case for seven years and that “finally vindication has come for all of us”. He said he had not thought they could ever get justice and it shows that no matter how long ago it was, “that there is justice”.

He called on people to come forward “if you have been abused or hurt in any way”. He urged people not to be ashamed and said that if they come forward, “you will get the best help and support”.

Fr Conlon said he wished to thank his solicitor, his counsellor, One in Four, his friends and family, the “wonderful and dedicated” staff of the DPP, the prosecuting barristers, and the detective unit in Kevin Street who “worked tirelessly to bring the investigation to its successful completion”.

The court heard previously that when gardai put the victims’ allegations to Harte in 2015, the former teacher claimed they had “a vendetta against him”.

Anne Rowland SC, prosecuting, told the court that there is no evidence that any of the victims were ever in contact with each other since the offending took place. Detective Garda Garvan Ware said, “as far as I’m concerned, they are all independent”.

Harte, of Glendown Park, Templeogue, Dublin, had denied the charges and in a speech to the court, he claimed that the State had “validated” his teaching at the time and could not now “invalidate it”.

He said, “I abhor all forms of child abuse, discrimination and social injustice” and told Judge Martin Nolan that he would go to the High Court if his sentence reflected a “sectarian” motivated prosecution.

Passing sentencing today, Judge Nolan that at the time of the offending, Harte was the victims’ teacher and that they found him cruel and “too fond of punishment”.

Judge Nolan said the evidence disclosed seems to indicate “a pattern of misbehaviour”. He said the victims were “particularly courageous” in coming forward to give their evidence and the court thanks them.

He sentenced Harte to two years imprisonment for the first count of indecent assault on the indictment and one-year imprisonment for the second count on the indictment, which he ordered to run consecutive to the former sentence.

Judge Nolan sentenced Harte to one-year imprisonment on each of the remaining nine counts of indecent assault, but ordered that they run concurrent to the other sentence, resulting in an effective sentence of three years imprisonment.

At an earlier sentencing hearing, the court heard that Harte repeatedly and continuously molested the children amidst an atmosphere in his class of severe corporal punishment and verbal abuse.

Victims testified at the trial that he would find reasons to call them up to his desk, sometimes for praise and other times for correction of minor misbehaviours. He would warn the rest of the class to look at their books and not raise their heads before proceeding to fondle the boys’ genital areas.

Ms Rowland told the court that three of the victims wished to waive their anonymity. Asked about this, Dermot Hallion confirmed this was the case, saying “Yes, I didn’t commit any crime”.

He told the court that that abuse continued to affect him into adulthood, causing him to feel worthless and low in confidence.

Fr Tony Conlon, said the abuse had “a paralysing effect” on his life and prevented him from achieving so many things in life.

“Throughout my life, I always believed I was the only one, I had no idea there were others who suffered. I felt I had done something wrong and afraid I would be found out” he said.

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He said he was terrified someone would find out he was the victim of child abuse and that this might cause them to think he would be an abuser himself.

Ms Rowland outlined to the court evidence that Harte would regularly beat pupils with a leather strap which he constantly had to hand. She said victims described being afraid of him and being punished for the slightest thing.

Fr Conlon told gardaí that Harte once smashed a pupil’s head up against a wall and other victims described “constant beatings” with the leather.

One victim’s mother confronted Harte in the staff room and Harte denied he had done anything wrong.

Detective Garda Ware agreed with Patrick Gageby SC, defending, that the prosecution had not brought any charges of child cruelty or physical abuse against his client.

Harte was due to be sentenced on two occasions earlier this week. On Monday, Judge Nolan denied a defence application to adjourn the case for two months because of Harte’s risk of getting Covid-19.

On Tuesday, Harte failed to show up again and his lawyers told the court he had gone into hospital with cardiac issues.

Harte had pleaded not guilty and gave evidence during the trial in which he strenuously denied the allegations.

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About the author:

Declan Brennan & Brion Hoban

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