Deputy principal banned from teaching over child porn offences

Inquiry heard Co Cork primary teacher had thousands of images and videos of abuse

Brian Fitzgerald of Meadowlands, Youghal, Co Cork, is serving an 18-month sentence after pleading guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography on various dates between February and May 2017. Photograph: iStock

Brian Fitzgerald of Meadowlands, Youghal, Co Cork, is serving an 18-month sentence after pleading guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography on various dates between February and May 2017. Photograph: iStock

 

A deputy primary school principal teacher has been banned from teaching after a fitness-to-teach inquiry heard evidence that he has possessed and distributed child pornography.

Brian Fitzgerald, 50, of Meadowlands, Youghal, Co Cork, last year received an 18-month sentence after pleading guilty to possessing more than 2,000 images and videos of child pornography, some of which included adults engaging in sexual activity with babies.

Fitzgerald, who is still completing his jail term, was not present at the inquiry on Tuesday and did not have legal representation.

However, in previous correspondence with the Teaching Council, his solicitor said he had “held his hands up and pleaded guilty” and was not contesting the inquiry or any evidence.

Following a hearing on Tuesday, the Teaching Council’s disciplinary committee inquiry panel revoked Fitzgerald’s registration as a teacher for a minimum of 15 years.

“In the panel’s view, Mr Fitzgerald, by his own actions, has demonstrated that he is not a safe or suitable person to be placed in a position of authority over children or young people, either now or in the foreseeable future,” said panel chair Elizabeth Cooney.

‘Abuse of trust’

She said his “abuse of trust was total” and the message sent out from the sanction was one of “unqualified condemnation” of his actions.

The inquiry heard that gardaí first became aware of Fitzgerald’s offences when it began investigating users accessing a child porn website.

They identified one computer user who was using the name “schoolteacher” and traced the download to Fitzgerald.

Gardaí raided his house on May 6th, 2017 and seized computer equipment.

They arrested Fitzgerald but he denied possessing child pornography or knowing anything about child pornography and was released without charge.

However, gardaí sent the equipment for examination and Garda cyber experts established that thousands of images and videos had been deleted from the computer.

Gardaí re-arrested Fitzgerald on June 25th, 2018 for questioning and when questioned about the deleted images and videos, he admitted they belonged to him.

Some of these deleted images included female adults engaged in sexual activity with babies

The inquiry heard that Fitzgerald had downloaded 551 images and 1,162 videos depicting children under 17 engaging in various sexual acts.

And they also established that he had downloaded 529 images and 1,018 videos depicting children under the age of 17 exposing their genitalia.

Some of these deleted images included female adults engaged in sexual activity with babies, as well as pre-teen boys and girls involved in sexual activity with adults or other boys and girls.

Sick leave

Gardaí established that Fitzgerald had shared 53 child porn images on four separate dates with individuals in the UK, US and Germany and they were now being investigated by foreign police.

The inquiry heard that Fitzgerald had gone on sick leave from the school where he was teaching following his first arrest in 2017 and he later took a career break in 2018 and had not taught since.

During Fitzgerald’s court case last year, his defence barrister pleaded for leniency, pointing out that his client, a single man, had moved back into the family home in Youghal and was caring for his elderly mother who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

However, Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said possession of child pornography was a serious offence but of even more concern to him were the distribution charges where he shared such images with others.

He sentenced Fitzgerald to three years in jail on the distribution charges and on the possession charge but he suspended the final 18 months to incentivise his rehabilitation while in prison.

The Teaching Council’s fitness-to-teach inquiry on Tuesday was just the third of its kind to be held in public since it started hearing in recent years.

The three-person panel which oversaw the inquiry was made up of two teachers – Elizabeth Cooney and Sean O’Neill – and Gerry Leydon, a non-teacher member.