Belfast Telegraph

Teacher's conviction for cruelty is quashed on appeal

By Amanda Ferguson

A teacher accused of cruelty against children with special needs has had his conviction quashed on appeal.

Stephen Downes (60), a former senior teacher at Parkview Special School in Lisburn, appeared at Belfast County Court, where a judge granted a 'no case to answer' application by the defendant's legal team.

Mr Downes' lawyers had been appealing a decision made at Lisburn Magistrates Court last year to sentence him to six months in prison, suspended for two years, in connection with two charges of cruelty against a person under 16.

The charges were linked to incidents at the school dating back to 2010 and 2011.

Mr Downes had in the past always maintained he was innocent and had denied hitting a child in the face after she took another pupil's milk.

He also denied assaulting a second girl who had fallen against a radiator.

The two girls involved in the case, both of whom have severe learning difficulties, were assessed by police and social workers as being unable to provide formal statements, as they could not fully comprehend the court process.

Their statements were submitted on a hearsay basis to the lower court via their parents and classroom assistants at the school.

At an earlier hearing, a judge had said he would consider the defence's application of no case to answer because "complicated and involving issues relating to hearsay" and circumstantial evidence had arisen.

Yesterday the judge told the court that "no reasonable jury, properly directed, could ever be satisfied to the necessary standard of proof" that physical assaults had happened, and that therefore he was granting the application for no case to answer.

Following the court judgment, Mr Downes declined to comment on the case being thrown out.

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