Belfast Telegraph

Parkview Special School teacher guilty of child cruelty appeals his conviction

By Amanda Ferguson

A teacher who walked free from court after being found guilty of cruelty to children with special needs has launched an appeal against the conviction on the basis he was the victim of a "witchhunt".

Stephen Downes, a former teacher at Parkview Special School in Lisburn, is maintaining his innocence in connection with two charges of cruelty against a person under 16 linked to incidents between November 2010 and March 2011.

In May last year Judge Rosemary Watters said it was "hard to imagine more vulnerable victims than those in this case" and sentenced Downes to six months, suspended for two years.

Yesterday, an appeal against the conviction was launched at the County Court at Laganside.

Representing Downes, Gavan Duffy QC suggested information provided by one of the girls – who has Williams syndrome and severe learning disabilities – could not be relied upon as she "might give you an answer she thinks you want to hear".

Under cross-examination the girl's mother said her daughter, now 16, had never expressed reluctance regarding going to school until the March 2011 incident during which Downes (60) yelled, yanked the girl's tie, scrabbed her face and shoved her after she drank another child's milk.

"She put her hands up across my chest and shoved me sharply to show what had happened to her," the mother told the court.

Downes' defence lawyer suggested Una Brennan, the former principal of Parkview, had instigated a "witchhunt" after the allegations of cruelty arose.

Ms Brennan confirmed to the court she had had a strained relationship with Downes.

She claimed Downes had verbally abused her when she took up the position of acting principal in 2011.

But she added that after he apologised over that incident and "cleared the air" she spoke to him to "wipe the slate clean".

Another witness, classroom assistant Lynette Robinson, told the court during an incident in November 2010 involving another girl she "heard her cry out".

She said she then saw a stud wall vibrate, such was the force of the impact on it.

"When Mr Downes came out of the room he stood in the archway of the door," she told the court.

"Someone asked what happened, and he said she fell into the wall."

The case continues.

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