Teacher claims he suffered mental stress from bullying


A TEACHER, who claims he suffered psychological injury because of a bullying headmistress, has denied that bouts of depression were associated with a broken extra marital affair.

Robert Atkinson, who is suing Meanscoil Naomh Colm, Crumlin, Dublin, for up to €38,000 damages, told the Circuit Civil Court that a psychiatrist who interviewed him on behalf of the school had got dates regarding the affair wrong.

Prof Harry Kennedy, who is head of the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, had been asked by the school to provide an expert assessment of Mr Atkinson, as part of the preparation of the defence case.

Called as a witness yesterday by the school, Prof Kennedy said Mr Atkinson had told him during a two-hour consultation that in 2003 he had an affair with the mother of school friends of his children.

“He told me he had decided to end the relationship and come clean about it with his wife,” Prof Kennedy said.

“He said it lasted about two years. He had been pretty severely depressed at the time.”

Prof Kennedy told barrister Tom Mallon, counsel for the Christian Brothers run school, that Mr Atkinson had told him his wife had been very wounded and they had attended marriage guidance counselling together.

Mr Atkinson’s own GP, Dr Anna Beug, acknowledged to the court that in December 2006 he had told her about having had an extra marital relationship “in the past year and feels extremely guilty’’.

In cross-examination Mr Atkinson told Mr Mallon that Prof Kennedy had got the dates of the affair wrong.

The court had heard the alleged bullying by principal Mary Dowling-Maher had taken place during the 2004-05 school year.

Earlier in the case Mr Atkinson of South Circular Road, Dublin, alleged he had been subjected to harassment, bullying and intimidation on an ongoing basis by Ms Dowling-Maher and for two months in 2004 had been certified off work by his doctor because of stomach problems and depression.

He told his counsel, Conor Bowman, that going to work at Meanscoil Naomh Colm had become a “hell on earth”. He said the bullying had started when he and the principal had a dispute over his keeping a “grossly defiant and extremely abusive” pupil out of class.

Ms Dowling-Maher denied in evidence yesterday that she had ever bullied Atkinson and praised him in court as a “really good, inspired and innovative teacher”.

She told Circuit Court president, Mr Justice Matthew Deery, she knew Mr Atkinson had been unhappy at having been rostered for extra IT and vocational preparation and guidance classes. She denied having barged into his classes on a regular basis daily.

Mr Atkinson had told the court that the bullying by headmistress Mary Dowling-Maher had started affecting his health in October 2004 following a break-down in relations between them after he had put a student out of his class for misbehaving.

Mr Justice Deery heard it claimed that the principal had bullied Mr Atkinson on an ongoing basis, behaviour which allegedly started when an issue had arisen about the student being taken back into his class.

Mr Atkinson had refused to accept the “grossly defiant and extremely abusive” pupil back despite pressure from Ms Dowling-Maher, who was then vice-principal but who became principal a short time later.

After having been forced to take the pupil back into class an issue had arisen over timetabling and that he would have to teach other subjects for which he had not been trained.

Mr Bowman told the court the student issue appeared to have been the trigger for a deterioration between teacher and principal.