Belfast Telegraph

Legal bid to dismiss Lisburn teacher's child cruelty conviction

By Amanda Ferguson

The lawyer for a teacher appealing a conviction for cruelty to children with special needs has applied to have the case thrown out of court.

Gavan Duffy QC yesterday told Belfast County Court there was insufficient evidence against his client Stephen Downes.

On May 10, 2013, the 60-year-old former senior teacher at Parkview Special School in Lisburn was sentenced to six months, suspended for two years, in connection with two charges of cruelty against a person under 16 linked to incidents between November 2010 and March 2011.

The two victims – girls with complex medical issues and severe learning difficulties – did not give evidence in court as the authorities deemed they would not be able to cope with the stress of making statements and attending court.

At an appeal hearing yesterday, Downes' lawyer said it was abundantly clear three classroom assistants had not witnessed any form of battery or assault and told Judge Devlin there was no evidence of a physical assault and insufficient evidence on which to convict.

Judge Devlin told Mr Duffy the application for no case by the defence formed part of a different approach to his junior counsel at Lisburn Magistrates Court last year, where another lawyer for Downes had accepted the hearsay evidence in the case be submitted to the lower court on agreement with the prosecution.

Prosecution barrister Jackie Orr QC told Belfast County Court Downes had given two versions of a story regarding one of the incidents.

She also said that he had failed to file an accident report linked to one of the incidents.

She added that his desire to instil "the fear factor" in one of the girls was not contradicted by defence counsel.

Judge Devlin told the court he would consider the defence application because "complicated and involving issues relating to hearsay" had arisen and he would make a decision regarding whether the case can proceed further next week.

"Matters are involved and require some careful consideration," the judge said.

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