Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Northern Ireland teacher charged with cruelty to children

A senior teacher at Parkview Special School in Lisburn has appeared at the city’s Magistrates Court accused of cruelty against children.

Stephen Downes (59), of Glebe Gardens in Moira, denies five charges of cruelty against a person under 16 on dates between October 2010 and March 2011.

The allegations relate to three children —two girls and a boy — who all have learning difficulties and a range of other health issues, such as severe epilepsy, limited speech and autism.

Three classroom assistants, who had worked with Mr Downes at Parkview, gave evidence yesterday.

They all expressed “regret” they hadn’t reported all of their concerns immediately, as per the child protection policy at the school.

Witness Lynette Robinson told the court on a few occasions Mr Downes had said that he wanted to have “the fear factor”.

She told the court when he had been alone with one of the girls in a classroom she had heard “furniture moving in a rough manner” followed by “a loud thud on the ground” and “crying and screaming”.

The classroom assistant also said that on another occasion, again when Mr Downes was alone with the same girl, she had heard “a large bang and a stud wall began to vibrate”.

She told the court the girl was distressed and that “Mr Downes came out of the room with his arms folded, with a smirk on his face”.

The child’s mother told the court her daughter’s behaviour had changed around the time of the alleged incidents, in that she was “clingier, unsettled and weepy” when she had to go to school and that she had unexplained finger and thumb bruises.

Ms Robinson and another classroom assistant, Ruth Conway, both told the court when a different girl had failed to put her arms out straight during a movement class — similar to pilates and yoga — they had witnessed Mr Downes pulling the child by the arms with such force that her bones made a “loud cracking sound”.

In relation to another alleged incident involving the same girl, the third witness, Louise Clarke, said she heard Mr Downes shouting at someone, calling them “selfish” and saying “how dare you”.

Ms Clarke told the court the girl had emerged from the room “whimpering”.

Regarding the allegation involving a boy under 16, Louise Clarke told the court on one occasion when Mr Downes had been alone with the child she had heard screaming.

The classroom assistant said when the boy came running out of the room, Mr Downes followed, “grabbed him and quite forcefully pulled him to the floor”.

Mr Downe’s lawyer, Michael Boyd, suggested the three classroom assistants were not impartial witnesses. All three women said this was incorrect.

The case continues next month.

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