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Female teacher who had sex with student (16) jailed

Independent.ie logo Independent.ie 31/10/2019 Andrew Phelan
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A SECONDARY school teacher who admitted having sex with one of her fifth-year students has been jailed for a year.

The woman (25) had the sentence handed down at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today, after pleading guilty to two counts of defilement of a child.

She stood, shaking, sobbing and wiping away tears with a handkerchief as Judge Martin Nolan gave her two concurrent three-year sentences, with two years suspended in each case.

The substitute English teacher was 23 when she had sex with the boy on his 16th birthday in her car on a beach, after giving him a jumper, aftershave, a highlighter and pens as presents.

Later, on the night before Valentine’s Day, she booked a hotel room where they sat on a bed watching Netflix on her laptop before again having sex.

The now-25-year-old admitted the offences but maintained she had waited until the boy was 16 because she wrongly thought that was the age of sexual consent, which is actually 17.

Judge Nolan said he accepted this was her belief, but the accused “should have known” the age of consent.

While she was a young and inexperienced teacher, she had been “reckless”, abused her position of trust and what she did was “completely unethical and immoral,” the judge said.

Evidence was heard yesterday and the woman returned for sentencing this afternoon.

Dressed in a long-sleeved cream-coloured top and black trousers, and with her hair tied back, she sat crying in the dock throughout the hearing.

Judge Nolan said the crimes and the facts were serious, and the mitigation was clear.

The accused had pleaded guilty at an early stage and co-operated fully with the gardai, making full admissions.

She had no previous record whatsoever and was a “young, inexperienced teacher at the time,” he said.

“Undoubtedly by way of her misbehaviour, she has brought shame on herself, and ridicule,” the judge said.

Central Criminal Court © independent.ie Central Criminal Court It seemed certain she had lost the opportunity to teach for a considerable period of time, he said.

She was unlikely to re-offend and could contribute to society, the judge continued. He accepted that she thought the age of consent was 16 when she committed the crimes “but she was indeed reckless.”

“She was a teacher at the time and should have known the age of consent,” the judge said. “Very little enquiry would have informed her of the appropriate age of consent.”

The aggravating factors were also obvious, he said.

She met the victim through teaching, when she was a person in a position of trust.

“Unfortunately she abused this trust,” he said.

“It seems to me she must undergo a custodial sentence.”

“It is completely unethical and immoral for a teacher to have these sexual relations with a student,” Judge Nolan said.

It became criminal when the student she had these relations with was under the age of consent, he added.

He suspended the final two years of each concurrent sentence on the accused entering a bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for two years.

The accused was asked to step forward to acknowledge her bond.

Clutching her handkerchief in both hands in front of her and still trembling, she stood, with her eyes closed and nodded that she acknowledged the bond, before being led away.

Members of her family cried in the public gallery.

Yesterday, Garda Stephen Hughes said a relationship developed between the accused and the victim, who was in fifth year at a Dublin school.

The victim had told gardai the teacher had been very easy to get along with and friendly, and she would talk about going out at weekends.

In the first week after she started work in 2017, he chatted to her after class while other boys were present, about “hobbies and interests and going out at the weekend.”

Before Christmas, he met her in a nightclub while he was with friends. She came over and gave him a hug and they had a conversation. They began regularly communicating by Snapchat and she began picking him up in her car after school.

They arranged to meet outside school for the first time in early January, when she picked him up in her car.

On the next meeting, before he got out of the car she gave him a hug, and he leaned in for a kiss, the court heard.

On his 16th birthday, they drove to a beach, he thanked her for the presents and they kissed before it “escalated” to oral sex and sexual intercourse.

The victim told gardai they chatted on the beach afterwards and he went home and spoke to her again on Snapchat.

The day before Valentine’s Day, 2018 they went to a Dublin hotel where she had booked a room in her name.

After dinner, they watched programmes on her laptop, started to kiss then got into bed and again had sex.

The next day he told his parents he had stayed in a friend’s house as it was the mid term break.

There was no further sexual activity and they continued to communicate before breaking off relations.

The victim’s mother was notified that her son’s school attendance was erratic. She was aware he was in a relationship but was reluctant to bring his girlfriend home.

Eventually, a neighbour told her her son “was seeing a teacher and she was a lot older than him.”

The victim’s mother made enquiries, got an Instagram picture from one of her son’s friends and brought this to the school, where the principal confirmed the accused’s identity.

Her contract was terminated and the mother went to the gardai, who arrested the accused as she returned from a trip abroad at Dublin Airport in October, 2018.

Asked about the relationship, the accused told gardai “she was young-looking, he was in an over-18s nightclub, I wasn’t concerned.”

Defence barrister James Dwyer said the accused and the boy waited until he was 16 in the erroneous belief that that was the age of sexual consent.

She “seems to have been genuine in that belief,” he said.

The teaching council of Ireland had since taken steps to remove her as a teacher. The accused had also suffered stress from publicity around the case.

In a victim impact statement, the boy said he had suffered “severe, life changing anxiety and depression” that “follows me like a little black cloud.”

“I don’t know how I got the mental strength to get up and get a job,” he said.

The accused was now in a relationship with a 28-year-old man, Mr Dwyer said.

She had “destroyed” her teaching career and now worked as an office administrator.

Testimonials described her as “honest hardworking and completely trustworthy.”

In a letter to the court, she said she had suffered an “uprooting of her life”.

“I accept that I was wrong, I take full responsibility for my actions, and I’m truly, truly sorry for anyone who has felt the burden of what I have done,” she said.

“This is a lifelong lesson, something I have learned from.”

Her parents had expressed “horror and dismay at the whole situation,” Mr Dwyer said.

A report by a specialist in child sexual abuse described the acused as a “naive young woman who has only recently realised the seriousness of and taken responsibility for her actions.”

The report stated the accused had no sexual interest in children or adolescents and “doesn’t fulfil the criteria for paedophilia.”

She posed no more risk of re-offending than anyone else in society, the report stated.

The maximum possible prison sentence on each charge was seven years.

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