Donegal teacher jailed for sexually abusing teenager


A Donegal woman has been jailed for two and a half years for sexually assaulting a 13 year old student.

Teacher Jacintha McSherry O’Connor of The Mullins, Donegal Town, denied indecently assaulting the boy while she was giving him grinds in 1985.

Dublin’s Circuit Criminal Court heard that the 63 year old did not accept the verdict.

A jury last month convicted her on two counts.

Jacintha McSherry O’Connor denied sexually assaulting the boy on two dates between June 1st and September 1st 1985, in his home where she had been giving him grinds. She was 24 at the time and a student teacher in Dublin.

The victim, now in his 50s, said he was a ‘shattered teenager’.

The 63 year old’s defence counsel says she was the victim of a serious sexual assault while a trainee teacher. A complaint was not made to Gardai but the perpetrator has since been convicted of another sexual assault.

The court also heard Ms McSherry O’Connor had lost her language school business in Donegal and her job in London following her conviction.

Judge Elma Sheehan described the offences as a breach and abuse of trust.

She noted the Donegal woman’s previous good character, co-operation, her long career as a teacher, the support of her husband and that the sentencing would impact her elderly mother whom she cared for.

Ms McSherry O’Connor was sentenced to three years with the final six months suspended.

Full report:

A former secondary school teacher who indecently assaulted a 13-year-old pupil nearly 40 years ago has been jailed for two and a half years, with the last six months of a three year sentence suspended.

Jacintha McSherry O’Connor (63), of the Mullins, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal, was found guilty of two counts of indecently assaulting a male student in 1985 following a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial in October.

Passing sentence today Judge Elma Sheahan said she has considered the victim impact statement, and she notes the effects the abuse has had on the complainant throughout his life.

Judge Sheahan noted the seriousness of the offending in itself, the age disparity between McSherry O’Connor and the complainant, the breach of trust and the effect the abuse had on him and that the abuse took place in his own home as aggravating factors in this case.

The judge said the mitigating factors are her previous good character, her cooperation with gardai through the investigation, and that she continues to enjoy the support of her husband.

She noted that McSherry O’Connor has cared for her mother for a number of years, and the sentence would also impact her. She said she had lost her ability to earn a living from her language school. She noted McSherry O’Connor had a long career as a teacher and external examiner.

Judge Sheahan said the court notes the contents of the testimonials handed into the court and considers the effects a custodial sentence will have on a person who has never served a prison sentence before. She also noted that McSherry O’Connor was a victim of sexual assault herself as a student teacher.

McSherry O’Connor is regarded as being at low risk of reoffending, and the judge placed her offending in the mid-range for sentencing.

Judge Sheahan sentenced McSherry O’Connor to three years in prison on each of the two counts to run concurrently and suspended the final six months. She also placed her under the supervision of the Probation Services for six months post-release and on the sex offenders register.

The court heard the abuse occurred while McSherry O’Connor worked as a student teacher at a Dublin secondary school. The court heard she indecently assaulted the boy on two occasions in his home on dates between June 1 and September 1, 1985, while giving him grinds. She was aged 24 at the time and the boy was 13.

At a previous hearing, the man, now in his fifties, stated in a victim impact statement that McSherry O’Connor “has been like a spectre hanging over me my whole life”.

He said she “took my innocence away” and that what happened was “deeply and morally wrong”.

He said he “tore up every photo of her or anything that reminded me of her” and “perhaps now she may have an idea of how I suffered”.

“The truth was close to never coming out, just left festering there in the back of my mind,” he said, adding that he was glad he spoke out.

The four-day trial also heard allegations of inappropriate sexual relations between McSherry O’Connor and the boy on a holiday she attended with his family in Spain in the run-up to the alleged offences. No charges were before the jury in relation to these alleged incidents as they pertained to a different jurisdiction.

The complainant in the case told the court that seeing his own children reach the age he was at the time of the incidents spurred him to go to gardaí, along with other unrelated high-profile cases. He said he was also concerned to see McSherry O’Connor was still teaching in Donegal.

The trial heard that while giving the boy grinds at his home, McSherry O’Connor started having inappropriate conversations with the boy about music that made her “horny” and discussing things of a sexual nature. He also visited her regularly in the home she lived in with her parents.

The prosecution alleged that this was a form of “grooming” on the part of McSherry O’Connor and that the complainant was “drawn in” as a result, and “infatuated” with his teacher.

The court heard McSherry O’Connor and a friend of hers accompanied the boy and his family on a holiday to Spain the summer he finished first year after getting a cheap deal. The two young women stayed in a separate apartment in the complex.

The complainant told the trial that it was on this holiday that the first sexual encounters occurred.

He said McSherry O’Connor rubbed her breasts against him at the pool, fondled him and later performed oral sex on him in her apartment. He said she also gave him alcohol, which was the first time he got drunk.

After the holiday, the court heard of two further indecent assault incidents that occurred in the boy’s home – in the sitting room and in the attic. The complainant said that although he initially felt like a “big man”, he became uncomfortable about his interactions with the teacher and told her he didn’t want to see her anymore.

She had finished her work experience at the school by then and neither of them have had contact with each other since 1985, the court heard.

Marc Thompson BL, defending, described the case as “highly unusual” and said his client does not accept the verdict. He said the result of the trial had a “significant impact” on her.

He said there were “levels of depravity” and that McSherry O’Connor had used no violence, not recorded the indecent assaults and had not publicised them.

Mr Thompson told the court McSherry O’Connor had been the victim of a sexual assault while working as a junior teacher. She did not make a complainant to the gardai at the time. The perpetrator was a senior teacher and was later convicted of sexual assault against someone else.

He handed in a booklet containing almost 40 references for McSherry O’Connor. He said it included testimonials from teacher who knew his client personally or professionally and “find it hard to reconcile the verdict with the person they know.”

Mr Thompson told the court McSherry O’Connor’s husband “finds it hard to reconcile that the person he knew at the time could have committed these offences.” Her husband also does not accept the jury’s verdict.

He said McSherry O’Connor’s imprisonment will have a significant impact on her mother, who is elderly. He asked the court to be as lenient as possible.