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'Vindication has come for all of us' - principal jailed for 3 years over sex abuse

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Patrick Harte (78)

Patrick Harte (78)

Patrick Harte (78)

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 yesterday, outside the Criminal Courts of Justice building, Fr Tony Conlon, a victim who is now a Catholic priest, said he "hoped and prayed" that this day would come.

Fr Conlon said the victims 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 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 anyway". Urging them not to be ashamed he said if they came forward they would, "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 had all "worked tirelessly to bring the investigation to its successful completion".

Vendetta

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, said there was 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, claiming 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 yesterday, Judge Nolan said 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 added that the victims were "particularly courageous" in coming forward to give evidence and the court thanked them.

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

Judge Nolan sentenced Harte to a year's jail on each of the remaining nine counts of indecent assault, but ordered that they run concurrent to the other sentence, resulting in three years' imprisonment.

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

Victims said 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 said that the 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.

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 said Harte would regularly beat pupils who were punished for the slightest thing with a leather strap.

Fr Conlon told gardai 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.

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

Shocked

Harte was due to be sentenced twice this week. On Monday Judge Nolan denied a defence application to adjourn the case 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.

In his statement another victim told the defendant: "We trusted you, but you let us down, this has been with me all my life and always will be".

In his victim impact statement, Kevin Byrne said that an insignificant event can have a profound effect and that "this was not an insignificant event".

Mr Byrne said he was shocked when the defence counsel thanked him for giving evidence and then said that Harte denied any offences ever took place. He said that statement "rocked me to my core".

Mr Byrne said that the fact that his mother believed him and tried to do something saved him from experiencing worse events later in life. He said this statement was not about vengeance and he was not seeking to inflict hurt.

Another victim said that "as an adult and teacher he was to nurture me. Instead, his actions demolished all goodness". He said that Harte played the role of "good teacher, bad teacher", and this was a ploy.

He said Harte abused his "very privileged teaching position" and betrayed his parents, the Christian Brothers "and the darkest betrayal was trust".

Mr Gageby said his client continued to work at Synge Street and became principal before retiring at an appropriate age.