Courts: Former school rugby coach and teacher who abused 23 students jailed for eight years

Courts: Former rugby coach and teacher who abused 23 students jailed for eight years

A former rugby coach and teacher at a Dublin private school who abused 23 students has been jailed for eight years.

John McClean (76) abused the boys between 1973 and 1990 while he worked for Terenure College. He left the school in 1996 after certain allegations were made and took up a role coaching rugby with UCD.

McClean of Casimir Avenue, Harold’s Cross, Dublin, pleaded guilty to 27 charges of indecently assaulting the males at Terenure College in Dublin on dates between 1973 and 1990. Further charges were taken into consideration.

The accused had denied all offences when interviewed by gardaí and three trial dates were fixed before he finally pleaded guilty in November 2020. He has no previous convictions.

Passing sentence on Thursday at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Pauline Codd said she wanted to “sincerely laud” the victims. She said they had “found their voices” and that their voices were not given free expression in the “cultural and educational climate” of the time.”

Judge Codd said a theme running through many of the offences was giving the children “so-called choices”. She said McClean “utilised and preyed upon their psychological vulnerabilities”.

“The effects of sexual abuse have cast a shadow over the adult lives of those effected,” Judge Codd said.

Judge Codd said the offences were aggravated significantly by the “sheer scale and duration of the offending conduct”. She said the offending conduct was marked by “mind-blowing and brazen arrogance”.

She said McClean is now aged 76, having been between 28 and 45 years old at the times of the offences. She said he has undergone treatment for cancer, suffers from Addison's disease and has a history of lung-damage from TB.

Judge Codd sentenced McClean to 11 years imprisonment, but suspended the final three years of the sentence on condition that he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for two years post release.

Speaking on the steps of the court after the sentence was passed, Damien Hetherington (59), one of the victims in the case, said he supposed he felt closure, “but it has taken me forty-seven years”.

“The dogs on the street were barking about this particular individual for the thirty years he was there, but he was still left there,” Mr Hetherington said.

Referring to how McClean was conducting himself in court, Mr Hetherington said “he couldn't look at any of us in the eye, he had his head down all the time. Anyway he is gone now to where he should have been 25 years ago.”

When asked what he would say to other victims of sexual abuse, Mr Hetherington said he would say to “never give up”.

“I would never have thought 47 years later I would be standing here,” he said.

“But I would encourage any more victims to please come forward. It is never too late. This has been a scar on this country for god knows how long.

“Come forward and get it done, you will be surprised how good you feel,” he said.

At a previous sentencing hearing, Inspector Jason Miley told Paul Murray SC, prosecuting, that McClean was an English teacher at Terenure College between 1966 and 1996. He also worked as a rugby coach in the school.

McClean assaulted several of the victims under the guise of fitting them for costumes for plays he produced in the school. He was removed from his role with the school plays in 1979 after certain allegations of abuse were made against him.

He was then appointed first year “form master” in the early 1980's and had his own office. Many of the subsequent indecent assaults committed by McClean occurred in this office when he brought boys there after they had gotten into trouble in class.

The court heard that some of the victims believed they were either not selected for or dropped from the school rugby team as punishment for challenging him over his sexual abuse of them.

Inspector Miley said that in 1996 the father of one of the victims informed Father Robert Kelly, the then Provincial of the Carmelite Order in Ireland, about the allegation his son had made against McClean.

He said Fr Kelly had a number of meetings over the summer break with McClean during which it was made clear McClean would not be returning to Terenure College. McClean was granted a three-year career break and became a rugby coach at UCD.

Inspector Miley agreed with Sean Guerin SC, defending, that Fr Kelly had a note of one of the meetings with McClean in 1996 during which McClean admitted to the allegation.

Fr Kelly told gardaí when providing these notes to them during this investigation that he had no recollection of this, but if it was in the notes then “it was true”.

One victim said in his victim impact statement that McClean was “evil personified” and that he had “crossed paths with the devil at Terenure College”.

Another victim said in his impact statement that he hoped a landmark will be built on the grounds of Terenure College as an acknowledgement of the past. He said such a gesture would go some way to healing the victims and their family members.

A third victim suggested that parents of the victims should have their school fees refunded to them in full.

Mr Guerin said his client has instructed him to give an “unreserved and unconditional apology”. He said his client was “ashamed” of what he did and that no victim bares any responsibility for any of the offences or any of the harm done by him.

Additional Evidence

At a previous sentencing hearing, Inspector Jason Miley gave evidence regarding each of the 23 victims.

Inspector Miley said that the first victim was aged 12 when he was abused on a date in the 1970s. McClean called the boy to the front of the class and pulled him against his legs while his penis was erect.

McClean began abusing a second boy began when he was aged 14 in 1974 and the abuse continued until 1976.

McClean, who was the boy's English teacher, detained the boy after class on numerous occasions. After time McClean's hand began to “wander” and he groped the boy’s genitals.

The boy was later brought to a lecture hall by McClean who told him there was a part in a play for him as a female character and there was a dress he wanted him to try on.

McClean told the boy to take off his clothes, but the boy managed to escape the room while the accused was distracted talking to another man.

A third boy was aged around 13 when he was abused by McClean. The boy had been injured playing in a soccer tournament for the school and was told by his geography teacher that McClean had requested to meet him in a small school room.

McClean asked him how his injury was, told him to take down his trousers and began massaging his leg. During this he brushed his hand against the boy's genital area.

A fourth boy was aged around 15 when he was abused by McClean. His classmates had been playing with a tennis ball which he hid in his trousers when McClean arrived.

McClean told him to leave the tennis ball where it was, then came over to the boy and put his hand first on the tennis ball before moving his hand to the boy's genitals. He then removed the tennis ball and walked away from the boy.

A fifth boy was aged around 13 when he took part in a school play as a female character. He arrived late one day and was putting on his costume on his own in a changing room when McClean came into the room.

McClean pretended to help the boy put on the costume and put his hand down the boy's underwear touching his genitals. He was masturbating himself during this and pulling the boy close.

A sixth boy was around 14 when McClean asked everyone involved in a school play to make themselves available for a costume fitting. The boy was told to strip to his underwear and put on the costume, after which McClean used the opportunity of making adjustments to touch the boy's genitals.

The boy told the principal at the time about the incident and McClean was removed from costume fitting duty. McClean was, however, appointed as first year “form master” one or two years after this incident.

A seventh boy was around 14 when he was summoned to McClean's office who told him he wanted to talk about his performance that year. The boy explained that his work had been affected by his home life being difficult and the accused said he understood.

The boy was called back to his office the following day where McClean hugged the boy, touched his backside and touched between his legs. He said the boy needed to be punished the next day.

The following day McClean hit the boy across the boy's bare backside, which he also fondled. He then had the boy stand up and he fondled the boy's genitals, attempting to masturbate him.

An eighth boy was around 12 when he was brought to McClean's office where he was hit on the buttocks by McClean who used several rulers tied together. Afterwards McClean wiped away the boy's tears, embraced him and touched the boy's buttocks.

A ninth boy was around 17 when McClean offered to give him extra tuition after school. The boy was punished every time he got something wrong by being hit with a ruler, initially on the hand, but things progressed until McClean was hitting the boy on his bare backside.

McClean told him that the “reward” for getting things right was that the boy could hit him with a ruler, which the victim remembered doing on the man's bare backside. He also remembered McClean rubbing his behind while they were face to face and naked from the waist down.

The victim said he believed he reported the incident in 1996, but Inspector Miley said gardaí could not figure out if he had made a statement or not. McClean ceased teaching at the school in 1996 and began working as a rugby coach in UCD.

A tenth boy was aged around 12 when he went over on his ankle during rugby training. McClean told him to go to the treatment room so he could examine it.

McClean initially began examining the boy's ankle, but he then moved his hand towards the boy's groin. The boy slapped his hand away and hobbled out of the room.

An eleventh boy was aged around 12 when McClean asked him to stay behind for a costume fitting for a school play. McClean put a hand down the boy's trousers, pulled him into his lap and fondled the boy's genitals.

A twelfth boy was abused twice by McClean during his time at the school. On one occasion McClean told the boy to get into costume so he could examine the fitting, then groped the boy's penis and buttocks.

McClean asked the boy to remove his underwear and continued to grope the boy. The victim remembered McClean standing behind him with an erect penis.

On a later occasion the boy was in a changing room when he was assaulted. McClean pulled him into his lap, groped the boy's crotch and rubbed his own crotch into the boy's rear.

A thirteenth boy, who was the younger brother of the previous victim, was aged around 12 when McClean began abusing him. McClean abused the boy on numerous occasions, taking the victim to is office whenever he had misbehaved in class and groping him.

McClean later arranged for the boy to serve detentions after school on Wednesdays. He would sexually abuse the boy during these detentions while also smacking the boy's behind.

A fourteenth boy was aged around 16 and was on the senior cup rugby team when McClean asked him to come to his office while he was being treated for an injured hamstring. In his office McClean asked him how the hamstring was and asked the boy to show how far he could stretch it.

While the boy was stretching, McClean put his hand inside the boy's trousers. The boy had to grab McClean under his arm to get his hand out of his trousers.

A fifteenth boy was aged around 12 when McClean brought him to his office after he had gotten into trouble for talking in class. McClean asked the boy if he knew how serious this was and said the boy could be expelled.

The boy began crying and McClean hugged him before proceeding to grope him. The boy tried to pull away but was unable to do so, eventually being told that he could go back to class.

A sixteenth boy was aged around 12 when he was called out of class for a costume fitting as he had been cast in a play. McClean told the boy to get undressed including taking off his underwear, but the boy refused to take his underwear off.

After the boy had put on tights, McClean put his hand down the boy's underwear and cupped his genitals. This continued for a short period of time until the boy pushed him away.

The seventeenth boy was aged around 12 when McClean told him to come to his office after school after the boy had been caught smoking. McClean asked the boy what Christmas would be like for his family if they found out about this, causing the boy to start crying.

McClean said his parents would not need to find out if he was given “six of the best”. He put the boy across his knee and hit him with rulers, then rubbed the boy's buttocks with his hand.

The eighteenth boy was aged around 12 when McClean began abusing him, continuing to do so while the boy was in first, second and third year in the school. McClean would send the boy to his office to be punished where he would hit the boy with a ruler and then rub his behind afterwards.

McClean later began asking the boy questions about sex and asking him if he could get his penis erect. The victim remembered McClean touching his penis.

The nineteenth boy was around 12 when he was abused by McClean after being sent to his office. McClean hit him ten times with a ruler while his trousers were down and afterwards held the boy tightly and started rubbing his back up and down.

The twentieth boy was in second year in the school when he was twice abused by McClean. On the first occasion McClean grabbed the boy in a locked classroom, put his hands down the boy's trousers touching his buttocks over his underwear and pulled their groins together.

On the second occasion the boy was called for a costume fitting during which McClean told him to take all his clothes off, though the boy refused to take his underwear off. McClean pulled the boy towards him, put his hands inside the boy's underwear and felt his buttocks.

The twenty-first boy was aged around 12 when he was called out of class for a costume fitting. McClean told him to take off all his clothes and put on a pink dress, which the boy did.

McClean touched the boy's genitals and buttocks, then got on top of him on the floor and gyrated against the boy. During this McClean continued speaking to the boy, at one point saying “does your daddy do this to do”.

The twenty-second boy was aged around 16 when McClean began tickling him during a costume fitting. McClean went from tickling the boy to lying on top of him, touching the boy's behind and rubbing up against him.

The twenty-third boy was aged around 12 when McClean brought him back to his office after he had been put out of class. McClean told him he could choose between being suspended or being slapped and the boy said he preferred to be slapped.

McClean put the boy over his knee and touched hie genitals before he hit him with a ruler repeatedly. After each time he hit the boy, McClean would rub the boy's behind with the ruler.

Defence counsel Sean Guerin SC said said his client wants to publicly acknowledge that by his action he has done great harm to Terenure College, to the wider community and to the Carmelite Order, for which he is sorry.

Mr Guerin said his client took “a full part in the life of the school”. He said there can be a temptation to see such involvement as being “purely for the cynical purpose of providing opportunities for offending”.

Counsel asked the court to not see it in this light, but to see the offending as “a deviation or aberration, albeit one much repeated, from a positive role he was able to play in the lives of others”.

Mr Guerin said it cannot be said that this offending was out of character, but it can be said that it was only a part of his client's character.

Counsel said even a relatively short sentence could have the consequence of his client dying in custody. He said his client understands he will receive a custodial sentence.

While passing her sentence on Thursday, Judge Codd said it “would not be feasible or just” to impose consecutive sentences in all counts. She said if the court were to impose a sentence that “manifestly exceeds his lifespan” it would be “unfit”.

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