McDonald v Conroy

JudgeMr. Justice Robert Eagar
Judgment Date09 October 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] IEHC 559
Docket Number[2013 No. 858 P.]
CourtHigh Court
Date09 October 2017

[2017] IEHC 559


Eagar J.

[2013 No. 858 P.]




Tort – Damages & Restitution – Vicarious liability – Negligence – Duty to care – Constant sexual abuse – Aggravated damages – Waiver of statutory time limit – Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 2000 – Burden of proof.

Facts: The plaintiff filed a claim for damages against the defendants. The plaintiff claimed that she had suffered constant sexual abuse and the first defendant had falsely imprisoned the plaintiff during the relevant time periods. The first defendant denied the allegations and held that the plaintiff's claim was statute barred. The plaintiff also claimed that since the first defendant was in the employment of the second defendant, both the defendants were vicariously liable for the alleged acts.

Mr. Justice Robert Eagar awarded general and aggravated damages to the plaintiff against the defendants. The Court held that the plaintiff had proved her case by presenting enough evidences such as exchange of text, close proximity of the first defendant to the plaintiff for several years, his sleeping within the closed confines of the plaintiff and occurrence of sexual acts between the plaintiff and the first defendant. The Court pointed out that the second defendant had failed to take adequate steps to supervise the conduct and behaviour of the first defendant during the relevant time and thus, the second defendant was vicariously liable for the acts done by the first defendant. The Court observed that the plaintiff's claim was not time barred under the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 2000 as the plaintiff was under disability, in that she had suffered psychological injuries to bring her claim within the stipulated time-limit. The Court, however, held that the Archdiocese was not liable to pay damages to the plaintiff as there was no evidence that the first defendant was in direct employment of the Roman Catholic Church in the school as chaplain.

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Robert Eagar delivered on the 9th day of October, 2017

The plaintiff in this case claims that, between 2004 and 2007, the first-named defendant wrongfully, physically and sexually assaulted, falsely imprisoned and sexually abused her. At all material times the plaintiff was a schoolgirl at Gorey Community School, Co. Wexford, and the first-named defendant was a school chaplain, teacher, and priest of the Catholic Church.


The plaintiff claims that her personal injuries have been exacerbated by the response of the defendants, their servants and/or agents to the plaintiff's claim.


The first-named defendant denies that any sexualised behaviour occurred between himself and the plaintiff. He counterclaims that the plaintiff's claim is without foundation, is malicious and vexatious, an abuse of process, and that the plaintiff has inflicted emotional harm on him. He claims malicious falsehood. He counterclaims for damages for personal injuries.


The second-named defendant is a secondary school which the plaintiff claims is vicariously liable for the acts of the first-named defendant. The third-named defendant is sued in a representative capacity as an agreed nominee and representative of the Catholic Church. Similarly, the plaintiff claims that the third-named defendant is vicariously liable for the wrongs of the first-named defendant. Both the second and third-named defendants deny vicarious liability, although interestingly, the second-named defendant states that the third-named defendant is vicariously liable to the plaintiff.


This judgment will set out relevant evidence in chronological sequence. By moving thematically through the evidence in the case, and any evidence corroborating the position of the plaintiff or first-named defendant, the Court will move to addressing the central question of the case, namely, who in this case has told the truth. After assessing the evidence in this manner and reaching factual conclusions, the issues of the Statute of Limitations, and vicarious liability will be addressed.

Chronology of Evidence

First Meeting


The plaintiff states that she first met the first-named defendant when she had broken up with her boyfriend in her third year of secondary school. This was around Christmas time of 2003, when the plaintiff was 15 years old. Her parents had suggested that she go to him for a chat, as she was upset about the break-up. The first-named defendant was the school chaplain, the plaintiff's religion teacher. She states that he was very well liked. This has been a constant theme throughout the case. The first-named defendant was held in high regard by students, the school community, by the plaintiff's parents, and by the Gorey community. The first-named defendant admitted that the first encounter he had with the plaintiff was in her third year, and that she had given him details of sexual encounters with her boyfriend. The plaintiff's mother's evidence supports this. She states that she told her daughter to go chat to the first-named defendant about her break-up, because he had experience of dealing with teenagers. The plaintiff would have said “how would you know anything” to her mother, and so she suggested to her daughter that the first-named defendant would be in a better position to explain things to her, and advise on how to move on. The plaintiff's mother states that the first-named defendant was a trusted, well-respected and popular person within the community.

School Trip to Gambia


In transition year, in February, 2005, the plaintiff went on a trip to Gambia. This was a trip that had been established for a few years in the school, where students would bring medicines and clothes to local people. It was simultaneously a mission awareness trip. Approximately 15 students were on this trip, with two teachers, the first-named defendant, another priest, Father O'Reilly, with Father O'Reilly's niece and her partner also in attendance.


The first-named defendant states that a few weeks prior to this trip, another priest, named Father Doyle had informed him that the plaintiff was a “psycho”. He does not elaborate on the circumstances of his receiving this information. He denies that the plaintiff presented as a vulnerable person.


The plaintiff states that one night in Gambia, the plaintiff, the first-named defendant and another student, Michelle O'Shea had been at dinner with the group, near to the building where they were all staying. She states that the three of them left dinner early to go to the shop and then returned to the dorms. The plaintiff states that she and Michelle O'Shea were messing in the first-named defendant's room. They put on his clothes and some after-shave. When the rest of the group arrived back, the plaintiff states that she and Michelle were told to stop messing. It is unclear on the plaintiff's account whether or not the first-named defendant was present in the room at this time.


Michelle O'Shea gave evidence and stated that the first-named defendant was in the room with them when they were messing with the shaving foam. She doesn't remember being given out to for messing, and she doesn't remember leaving the room and coming back in again.


The first-named defendant states that he and Father O'Reilly came back after dinner and found the two girls messing, wearing his clothes, and that Father O'Reilly unequivocally told them to get out, and that they left.


Róisín Dempsey, a teacher on the trip, states that she remembers seeing the two girls coming out of the first-named defendant's room with shaving foam on their faces. She thought this was just a prank, that the girls were being silly.


Father O'Reilly doesn't recall the girls wearing shaving foam, he just remembers seeing the two girls sitting on the first-named defendant's bed one night, and subsequently telling them it was a private area and that they were to go back downstairs. He doesn't recall Father Tommy being in the room at the time, he thought the girls were just messing and “making a French bed”.


The plaintiff states that on this same night, she and Michelle O'Shea were in the first-named defendant's room. The two girls and the first-named defendant were playing the game Jenga in his room. The plaintiff states that she fell asleep on his bed. The first-named defendant was in the bed beside her. She can't recall where Michelle O'Shea fell asleep, but she remembers that she was in the room with her. She fell asleep very late, and was fully clothed. She remembers the first-named defendant having his arm around her at some point. The first-named defendant had been drinking. She states the Michelle and herself got up early in the morning, around 5 or 6 am, and went back to their own room.


Michelle O'Shea's evidence supports the plaintiff's account. She states that they were all in the room playing Jenga on the night in question, and that the first-named defendant was drinking spirits. She states he wasn't drunk, he was coherent. She sat on a chair in the room and didn't go to sleep. She states that the plaintiff and the first-named defendant were in his bed together. She wasn't happy that they were in the bed together, and she states that she didn't want to leave the room because she didn't want people to think that they were alone together. She states she was worried that the plaintiff would be spoken about, and she didn't want anyone talking about her. She didn't disclose what had happened to anyone.


The first-named defendant states that the allegations that he invited the two students into his room to play Jenga are outrageous. He states that he was ambushed. He states that the plaintiff got into his bed, and that he didn't see or hear her getting into his bed. When he woke up...

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