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Fermanagh woman allegedly abused 40 years ago by school head told case won't go ahead

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Former Co Fermanagh school principal John McElholm

Former Co Fermanagh school principal John McElholm

Former Co Fermanagh school principal John McElholm

A Co Fermanagh woman who claimed her headmaster had sexually abused her as a child over four decades ago, prompting almost 20 other alleged victims to come forward, has been told by detectives that her case will not proceed.

Dozens of people broke their silence last year to claim John McElholm, a former school principal and former chairman of Fermanagh GAA, abused them when they were pupils at St Paul's Primary School in Irvinestown.

The so-called pillar of the community who died in 1995 was lauded as a "God-like figure" in many circles, but last year that image was shattered when it was claimed he abused his position as principal by preying on innocent girls and sexually abusing them in his office.

Lynn (not her real name) was the first person to make allegations about McElholm and she did so publicly in an interview with The Impartial Reporter newspaper, saying his alleged crimes were "an open secret".

"He rubbed my shoulders, then he worked down under my clothes and chest area, then proceeded to place his hands under my underwear. He molested me, again and again," she said.

She should have been safe in primary school among her friends, in the town she lived in, dropped off at the gate each day by her parents. But instead she was summoned to the principal's office several times a week where he would close the door, tilt his Venetian window blinds so that nobody could see in and sexually abuse her. Then he would send her back to class. She was eight years old.

After remaining quiet for decades, Lynn reported her allegations to the PSNI almost a year ago and provided a written statement to specialist officers after the force launched a major investigation into historical child sexual abuse here.

However, after more than 40 years of hiding her pain and a year in which she found her voice any form of closure, she says, was "shattered" in a two-minute phone call from a withheld number last month.

"I received a phone call from a police officer advising me that they would be filing the investigation into my claims because of a lack of evidence. That is all they said.

"I waited almost 40 years to tell my story and it ended in a two-minute phone call. It's not good enough.

"To be honest, I was taken aback. They did say that because of the coronavirus they couldn't do a face-to-face meeting with me," she said.

Lynn says she feels aggrieved by the way in which her situation was handled.

"I am disgusted by the way I have been treated because it took me so long to come forward and I thought it really wasn't good enough.

"This was an open secret; if you go down the street in Irvinestown and mention that man's name there's no hesitation; people can't say enough about him. They all know what he used to do in that school," she said.

Lynn added: "I feel let down again. It has opened everything up again. To be honest, they have a duty of care to anyone who has reported things.

"A two-minute phone call after all I have been through? It took me a long time to make that call and talk for them to tell me they have exhausted all avenues. That means nothing to me."

Looking ahead, Lynn says she intends to "challenge" the decision by the police, adding that "this cannot be the end of it".

"I would like to think that other victims would think the same. We have waited a long time for closure and I cannot let this be the end of it. I can't let McElholm win," she said.

McElholm died aged 82 in a nursing home outside Irvinestown.

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: "Public Protection Branch detectives have investigated allegations of abuse committed by a school principal, now deceased, in the Fermanagh area."

Detective Superintendent Anne Marks urged anyone with information about historical abuse to contact police. She explained: "When an accused person is deceased, understandably we are unable to bring that investigation before the court.

"However, despite the passage of time, in cases such as this we do still seek to establish the circumstances, whether any other person was involved and to assess if there are any current child safeguarding risks that need addressed.

"I would therefore like to thank several people who came forward, all with similar accounts of what had happened to them, help my officers do just that. As a result there are no further lines of enquiry to pursue but this will be reviewed should new evidence come to light.

"Our inquiries into the allegations of historical sexual abuse in Fermanagh remain ongoing despite the current Covid-19 environment."

Belfast Telegraph