Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Northern Ireland primary school principal kept silent about childrens' abuse fears for years

 

By Ciaran Barnes

A PRIMARY school principal in Northern Ireland who did not tell the parents of children in his care that they were claiming to be sexually abused has refused to reveal if he will resign.

Eamonn Magee - head teacher at St Patrick's and St Brigid's in Ballycastle - answered "no comment" when asked by Sunday Life yesterday if he accepted his silence amounted to a cover-up which put other kids at risk.

"I've no comment to make," was all he would say on the doorstep of his Portstewart home.

The 65-year-old also declined to reveal if he intended returning an MBE, awarded to him by the Queen last year for services to education, or if he is going to apologise to the parents of the pupils who were abused.

Mr Magee was heavily criticised in Antrim Crown Court on Thursday during a hearing involving paedophile postman Daniel Hill.

The 68-year-old from Clare Road, Ballycastle, is awaiting sentencing for sexually abusing three girls on dates between 1995 and 2001. The victims were all pupils at St Patrick's and St Brigid's Primary School.

The court was told that in 2001, a teacher intercepted a hand-written note being passed in class between some girls that said: "I hate Danny Hill; I hate him too; I hate the way he puts his hand down your pants."

The note was given to headteacher Eamonn Magee but he did not show the contents to the parents of the young victims.

The court heard how one of those abused only realised her father had not seen the note halfway through paedophile Hill's trial earlier this year.

Criticising Mr Magee's silence for almost two decades, prosecutor Tessa Kitson said: "As a child of 10, right until this trial started, she had always believed that her father had been shown the note and decided to do nothing about it but brush it under the carpet.

"This was in 2001, not the 1940s or 1950s or a Magdalene Laundry setting - any delay in this case lies fairly and squarely at the feet of Mr Magee... and that is something that Mr Magee should reflect on and address his mind to."

At his home yesterday morning, Mr Magee confirmed he had read Ms Kitson's damning assessment of him, but refused to say whether he had taken her criticisms on board.

On its website St Patrick's and St Brigid's Primary stresses its child protection credentials, saying: "Remember child protection is the responsibility of everybody. The child's care is paramount in all that we do."

Principal Eamonn Magee is the school's current deputy-designated teacher for child protection and a member of its safeguarding team.

St Patrick's and St Brigid's policy for reporting suspected child abuse is also published on its official website.

It states: "The Principal will decide whether in the best interests of the child the matter should be referred.

"If there are concerns that a child is at risk, the school is obliged to make a referral. Unless there are concerns that a parent may be the possible abuser, the parents should be informed."

Locals in Ballycastle who spoke to Sunday Life yesterday were adamant that Eamonn Magee should resign as St Patrick's and St Brigid's principal and hand back his MBE award.

One furious parent told us: "As school principal Mr Magee has failed those children who were sexually abused and their mothers and fathers.

"It must have been galling for them to see him getting an MBE last year for services to education. He should give it back and resign."

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

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