A RETIRED schoolteacher from Innishannon has been remanded in custody after he was found guilty by unanimous verdict of sexually assaulting a young boy while teaching in a school over 25 years ago.
Leo Hickey (77) from Realt na Mara, Skevanish, Innishannon had denied eight counts of sexual assaulting Daniel Kelleher while teaching at Scoil Eoin Boys National School in Ballincollig on dates between November 1991 and June 1992.
But the jury of five men and seven women at Cork Circuit Criminal Court took just an hour and five minutes last Friday to unanimously convict Hickey and Judge Sean Ó Donnbhain remanded him in custody for sentence on May 9th, to allow for preparation of a Victim Impact Statement.
Mr Kelleher (34) told the court that he was abused by Hickey over 20 times while in fourth class in the school, in a variety of locations, including in the toilets, the corridor and the schoolyard, as well as while walking back from the hurling pitch at the back of the school.
He couldn’t remember the exact dates of the abuse and he conceded he may have been wrong when he told gardai that he was 11 and he may in fact have been younger, but it began when Hickey started touching the back of his neck and touching his back, inside his shirt, in class.
He said he enjoyed the attention at first as it made him feel that he was special and a good pupil, but he saw it now as grooming as it progressed from that touching in the classroom to sexual abuse in the toilets and at the playing pitches.
Hickey used to send him out with notes for other teachers and then follow him out and make him go into the toilet where he would abuse him by touching his penis while he would get out his own penis and get him (the boy) to touch him.
He said that giving him the note was Hickey’s way of getting him out of the classroom. It tended to happen in the morning when the caretaker was on his rounds and although it lasted only a few minutes, it seemed to go on forever at the time.
He used to dread going to school and he lost all confidence in school and became rebellious with all teachers and authority figures. ‘It was a living hell and I believe what happened to me as a boy made me go down a dark road ... my life stopped the year I went into his classroom,’ he said.
Hickey was keen on music and they would make sticks for bodhrans and play the tin whistle in class and on one occasion, Hickey took his tin whistle, shoved it down inside his own pants and gave it back to him and asked him to play Amazing Grace and when he refused to do so, gave him lines.
He also told of another instance where Hickey abused him one evening walking in after hurling training, when he put his hands on his private parts and he dropped a bunch of hurleys that he had been carrying and ran back to the classroom with Hickey blowing his whistle to get him to stop.
Mr Kelleher said that Hickey used to rub his beard into his face while abusing him and at one point he ended up with a rash as a result and he got a ribbing from his friends over the rash, while he used also get bullied by other boys who slagged him for being ‘a teacher’s pet’.
When Hickey’s barrister, John Devlin BL, put it to Mr Kelleher that it was hardly normal behaviour for a teacher to leave a class of 30 boys on their own playing the tin whistle, while going out after a pupil, Mr Kelleher replied: ‘He’s not a normal teacher – I don’t know how his brain ticks.’
He said he regretted not telling people at the time, but he was young and afraid of Hickey and he denied a suggestion from Mr Devlin that he ‘spent a quarter of a century’ making up the allegation of sex abuse. ‘I spent quarter of a century blocking it out,’ he said. ‘I wished it never happened. I don’t want to be up here and be called a liar. I have a normal life outside this court – I wouldn’t come here to make this up. Who in their right mind would make this up?’ he asked.
Questioned further by Mr Devlin, Mr Kelleher denied he was making it up because of difficulties in his relationship with his father who, while he wasn’t a very emotionally demonstrative man, had a good relationship with his sons and always provided for them and their mother.
When Mr Devlin again put it to Mr Kelleher that he had fabricated these allegations of sex abuse against Hickey, he replied simply: ‘I wish I was ... I began wetting the bed in fourth class – who would make this up?’
Mr Kelleher’s mother, Stephanie, confirmed she had a meeting with Hickey about her son staying back a year and she recalled that her son only returned to the school the following September under duress. She also recalled him rolling around the floor in their hall, saying ‘I’m dead, I’m dead.’
Hickey, who described himself as an old fashioned teacher who devoted more time than most to music, said he had no recollection of ever sending any pupil to another teacher with a note, as there would be no point or purpose to it, given he met his fellow teachers during breaking time.
And he said that he had absolutely no recollection of Mr Kelleher as one of his pupils. ‘If he was very troublesome or backward or very clever, I might remember him, but he seems to have been a very much average middle-of-the-road student, because I have no recollection of him,’ he said.
Hickey said there was no way he would leave 30 children alone during a tin whistle class to bring one boy out of the classroom, and that never happened. ‘I did not sexually assault him. I never brought any boy to the toilet. What reason would I have for bringing a boy to the toilet?’