Fee-paying school conducted inquiry into sexual assault allegation

Rockwell College did not report alleged sexual assault incident to Tusla

A school conducted an internal inquiry into what has been described as a sexual assault allegation, without notifying Tusla. Photograph: Alan Betson

A school conducted an internal inquiry into what has been described as a sexual assault allegation, without notifying Tusla. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A school conducted an internal inquiry into what has been described as a sexual assault allegation, without notifying any statutory authorities, as required under child protection regulations.

After the investigation, the school explained its actions to the parents of the boy accused of the assault by saying they did not “categorise the wider incident as sexually motivated”.

The principal and deputy principal of Rockwell College secondary school in Co Tipperary interviewed a male boarding student who was accused of sexually assaulting another student.

No parents or guardians of the teenage boy were present when the allegations of the incident, which took place in November 2016, were put to the student.

The student was alleged to have pulled down the underwear of a younger student and groped his genitals, according to correspondence from the school.

During the interview, school principal Audrey O’Byrne said his alleged actions were “perverted” and told the student he had “very much crossed the line in terms of sexual assault”.

Audio recording

The principal told the accused student, “I don’t believe a word out of your mouth”, according to an audio recording of the interview, obtained by The Irish Times. During the interview the boy denied that he groped another student, but admitted he did pull down the boy’s underwear, which he claimed was a joke.

At several points the school staff can be heard loudly shouting at the student, and accusing him of lying.

Rockwell College is a mixed school, but offers boarding lodgings to 150 male students, with full five-day boarding fees costing €12,850 a year, and day student rates at €6,300 annually. The incident is alleged to have occurred in the boarding residences.

Correspondence the school sent to the parents of the boy accused of assault has also been seen by The Irish Times.

After the interview, the principal wrote to the parents of the boy on December 1st, 2016, informing them of the assault allegation against their son.

In response, the parents said under Children First legislation such allegations should have been immediately referred to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, or An Garda Síochána.

The Children First Act 2015 introduced mandatory reporting requirements in cases of suspected child abuse, either physical, sexual, or emotional.

“Schools have no remit to conduct any investigation of such a nature,” the letter said. The decision to interview their son, without the parents’ knowledge, “could be construed as interfering with a criminal investigation”, the parents’ letter said.

In a letter sent on December 7th, Ms O’Byrne said she “did not categorise this allegation as sexual assault, as I did not categorise the wider incident as sexually motivated, and consequently the referral process that you identified is not required”.

“If an allegation is made, it does require investigation,” which included interviewing boys present during the incident, Ms O’Byrne wrote.

Rockwell College is a Catholic school, founded in 1864 on the principles of the Spiritan tradition.

Allegation

The parents of the accused boy withdrew him from the school in mid-December.

In a letter confirming his withdrawal from Rockwell, Ms O’Byrne said the student’s behaviour was “of a very good standard” and made no reference to the allegation.

The boy’s parents complained about how the school handled the matter to the board of management.

In an email to the parents, Sister Ena Quinlan, chair of the school’s board, said it had “absolute confidence” in the school’s designated liaison person, Ms O’Byrne, responsible for reporting concerns to Tusla.

Tusla said it could not comment on individual cases, however, a spokeswoman said “any allegation of sexual assault would reach a threshold for a mandated report under the legislation”.

“Mandated reporters should not interview the alleged victim or person subject to the abuse allegations. This may result in impinging on a criminal investigation, or a child protection assessment,” the spokeswoman said.

Despite repeated requests for comment, via email and phone, Rockwell College did not respond to questions from The Irish Times.