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Northern Ireland teacher caught harassing teen girl at top grammar school

 

Former Bloomfield teacher Andrew McClelland leaving Laganside Court
Former Bloomfield teacher Andrew McClelland leaving Laganside Court
Bloomfield Collegiate

By John Toner

This is the shamed teacher who harassed a terrified teenage pupil at a top girls' grammar school in Northern Ireland.

Andrew McClelland (48) admitted to police he had been "a complete dick" for sending text messages to the 16-year-old pupil at Bloomfield Collegiate in east Belfast.

The father-of-two's life is now in ruins after he was convicted of harassing the girl who sobbed in court in Belfast on Friday.

"I was scared to be in the same room as him," the girl told Laganside Magistrates Court.

Newtownards man McClelland - who taught at Bloomfield Collegiate for more than a decade - was sacked by the school in January this year having previously been suspended and he's now unemployed.

His teacher wife has had to return to work full-time to support the family, the court was told.

Like a smitten teenager, McClelland sent a string of "intimate" messages to the girl pupil and confessed in one that he feared he was becoming addicted to texting her.

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She told the court she became frightened to go to school even after the teacher had been suspended because she feared he would turn up at the school gates.

The court was told McClelland initially began texting the girl about school matters but began steering the conversation onto more personal subjects and later she stopped responding.

At one point he sent her a text message saying he wished she could stay behind after class but not to do schoolwork.

Bloomfield Collegiate
Bloomfield Collegiate

He also hid a note intended specifically for her in a school locker and left a secret gift in her work folder.

McClelland was a teacher at Bloomfield Collegiate for 14 years before his dismissal.

The prestigious grammar school prides itself on academic excellence and boasts TV presenter Christine Lampard (right) and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long among its former pupils.

McClelland denied harassing the 16-year-old but was convicted after a contest during which the visibly emotional girl gave evidence via video-link.

She said the texts made her feel "scared and awkward".

She also said McClelland was more "friendly and helpful" to her than other pupils and would tell her not to tell other students about the extra help she was being given.

Former Bloomfield teacher Andrew McClelland leaving Laganside Court
Former Bloomfield teacher Andrew McClelland leaving Laganside Court

She said: "I was scared to be in the same room with him, it's not the sort of thing a teacher should be saying to you.

"I think he understands what he was trying to lead on to. I was afraid to come to school because I was worried he would be there even though he'd been suspended.

"I was worried he would show up to get me outside the school."

The court heard McClelland obtained the girl's phone number after she had left it with reception concerning a school matter.

Prosecutor Briege Gilmore said the text messages had been sent between April 25 and May 5 of last year.

On Friday, April 27, 2018, shortly after 9pm, she told the court McClelland sent the girl a text message which read: "You make my grumpiness disappear when you're about."

Days later he sent another text saying: "Sorry I am stupid, I wanted you stay (sic) so much but not to do your coursework. I suppose I am just too shy to say," followed by a series of emojis.

He later sent her another message which said: "Sorry I am rubbish at not texting you I am going to delete your number before I get addicted lol".

After she stopped responding to his messages, he went on to text her saying "have a nice summer (sad face emoji)" as well as "Don't leave tomorrow without saying goodbye, I have had the best summer working with you."

He added that she had not even come in to see him at school, adding "that hurt, please don't leave it like this."

Unsure of who she could inform at the school, the victim took screenshots of the messages and handed them to the police.

McClelland was subsequently suspended from teaching at the school before his employment was terminated in January.

His defence solicitor Gareth Purvis told the court his client accepted he had been "completely inappropriate and entirely unprofessional" and agreed the messages "should never have been sent".

But he denied that McClelland, a qualified teacher of 26 years, had harassed the pupil by sending the messages.

In evidence to the court, McClelland said he had looked forward to teaching the girl and "thought it would be funny to engage with her outside school."

He also claimed he had experienced a "very difficult school year" and had been "very unhappy at the time", adding: "The two of us got on well as teacher and pupil and I did not mean to upset her in any way."

Following his arrest, McClelland told police in interview: "I have been a complete dick, I have sent texts when I didn't need to. We never talked about getting in touch outside school or meeting up."

Rejecting his not guilty pleas, District Judge Alan White told McClelland: "It is clear to me that this did cause distress.

"In my view it would have been obvious to anybody with a titter of wit let alone a teacher of your experience.

"It may be you were not happy at work or suffering some sort of infatuation (which clouded judgment) but the law says not that you needed to know, but ought to have known, this would cause distress. The context here is a male teacher in his 40s and a 16-year-old pupil and that is where the oppressive element comes in.

"She said she was frightened as these text messages might lead to difficulties with her schoolwork which is why she replied to some of them. There is a subversion of the teacher-pupil relationship by the sending of texts which suggest intimacy far beyond what is appropriate.

"The convoluted explanation you give for these I have the greatest difficulty in accepting. Putting all that together I am satisfied the sending of messages after she stopped replying crosses the criminal threshold of harassment."

McClelland, of Lapwing Park, Newtownards, Co Down, was convicted of one charge of harassment and fined £250. He was also ordered to pay £500 compensation to the victim.

Mr Purvis said his client accepted his 26-year teaching career was over and he was now unemployed. Mr Purvis said McClelland's wife - who stood by him in court on Friday - had returned to full-time teaching to support their family.

The lawyer said the loss of the accused's income had caused financial difficulties to the family and they had been unable to go on any family holidays since his dismissal.

Outside court an ashen-faced McClelland refused to comment when asked by a Sunday Life reporter if he wished to apologise to his victim. A spokesperson for Bloomfield Collegiate School said: "We do not comment on individual cases."

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