Teacher convicted of assault on student

A long-serving teacher at Ceara School in Lurgan has been convicted of assaulting one of her pupils on a school outing.

Joanne Mallon of Young Enterprise presents Ceara School teacher Laura McConville with the Centre of Excellence Award. INLM2512-132gc

Banbridge woman, Laura McConville, pleaded not guilty to two charges of common assault on the 19-year-old pupil who has Down’s Syndrome, special needs and hearing difficulties.

The pupil used to attend Ballyoran Primary School and Tandragee Junior High School.

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After a hearing which was spread over two days at Craigavon Magistrates Court the 63-year-old from Ballyfern Road, Ballyskeagh, Banbridge, was found guilty of one charge and the other summons was dismissed.

She was fined £500 and bail was set at £250 for her to appeal against the conviction.

The court heard that the charges arose after two members of staff at Dunnes Store in Rushmere Shopping Centre reported an incident involving the defendant and the injured party.

They claimed she had dragged the girl “by the scruff of the neck” but McConville denied this saying she had been “shepherding” the girl who, she said, had been “in bad form”.

At the conclusion of evidence on Monday, District Judge Mrs Bernie Kelly came to the conclusion that what the two main witnesses had said did happen.

She regarded the events as one incident and convicted her on one charge before dismissing the second matter.

Judge Kelly said it was a difficult case which may have ramifications for the defendant but it did not cross the custody threshold and she would not order a pre-sentence report.

She added that McConville had an exemplary record which she could be given credit for but there was no credit for the way she met the case.

The judge said she was shocked with certain aspects of the case. One was that a teacher of McConville’s experience could not, when asked in court, give a single reason why parents’ permission was needed to take a child from school.

Judge Kelly pointed out that the defendant had been working at the time and she went personal shopping which was “exceptionally unprofessional” and she did so because she “didn’t like walking around with a hole in her tights”.

She added that the defendant had an “almost cavalier attitude” to this trip.

Judge Kelly said the two witnesses from Dunnes Store were sufficiently shocked to go out of their normal routine and first raise this with their manager and then make a phonecall to the school.

In normal everyday life, she went on, not everyone would go to that stage unless what they saw was really beyond what was unacceptable.

“The two witnesses do not know the defendant so why would they go to the trouble if this was as benign as the court is asked to accept by the defendant,” said the judge.

The store manager at Dunnes Stores, Mr Patrick Mullan, said he viewed CCTV footage which caught a few seconds of the incident.

Due to a fault with the system it was unable to download the footage.

He said it showed the defendant put two hands on the shoulder of the pupil and the girl moved forward. This lasted only a few seconds before they went out of shot.

The mother of the injured party said her 19-year-old daughter has Down’s syndrome, special needs and hearing difficulties.

There was, she added, a planned trip to B&Q on January 22 to get plants and she signed permission. The trip to B&Q was the only thing on the letter. Under cross-examination she agreed her daughter had a good relationship with Mrs McConville and by the third year had come on in leaps and bounds.